When we were hit with the pandemic in March 2020, I researched the Spanish flu. I found that the space of time from beginning to no longer making global accommodations was 2.5 years. Christmas 2022 was right there at the tail end of that period and offering a Christmas gathering not ‘in rows’, ‘kid-friendly’, nostalgic with Christmas carols, and a ‘chaotic-on-the-spot-Christmas program’ is where we started planning.

We planned for an outdoor service with firepits, roasting marshmallows (s’mores have too many pieces), a short message from the senior pastor, an acoustic guitar to lead the caroling, stick-masked costumes for all kids, with a program base from which to edit for our context from a fellow kidmin colleague in our networking group.

THEN the temps were anticipated to drop to zero with wind gusts of 35-40 mph was forecasted. THEN our guitarist had an accident with his hands requiring stitches the week of. THEN the adjacent building was torn down days before (we’d been waiting for over a year) covering the entrance with orange barrels, yellow caution tape, and two dumpsters we had no idea when pickup would be arranged. AND there was mud where the building used to be. Now frozen mud.

In true kidmin fashion, we pivoted with the couple of days the Lord gave us.

One firepit and a scout dad served as our firepit master outside at the entrance for the entire service time we were inside.

We cleaned a nearby, indoor space for a full day which hadn’t seen a broom nor trash bag in months. Thankful now for the dumpsters for the building tear-down which were removed the day of the event.

A team of visual artists turned the space into a warm, welcoming, sacred space. Bathrooms were loaded with appropriate welcome supplies, large banners were hung with mega magnets to the metal walls, battery-operated fire pots (from previous VBSs) were arranged in the seating area, luminaries purchased by a generous church for $5 each in honor or memory of a loved one, a hot chocolate bar (we ran out of three gallons of hot chocolate and hot apple cider in less than twenty minutes), and indoor table firepits to roast marshmallows with big blankets along the floors.

Activity bags were prepared with four marshmallows (in separate snack bags), a birthday candle and party blower to be used on Christmas Day to celebrate Jesus’ birthday at home, a jingle bell used for a ‘Joseph Says’ game as part of the service (think Simon Says), an LED finger light (to guide to the car in the dark since none of the outdoor lights/signage were working either), and a glow stick candle to use for singing Silent Night.

Each child, youth, whoever wanted to, picked up a mask on a stick to be part of the Christmas program and waited to be directed. Complete chaos and complete fun! We had a stage manager on the stage and on the floor. We had two Ambassadors serving as Mary & Joseph to set the stage for what the others were supposed to do on stage and two Ambassadors who engaged the audience in sounds and responses with cue cards prepared by a fabulous Sunday school teacher who has an eye for what is kid-friendly and beauty.

Activities started at 6pm, program started at 6:30pm, and we were finished by 7:30pm.

The last hiccup: I placed the event’s trash bags onto the hood of my car to drive to the trash dumpster near the main building. By the time I got there, bag had busted and frozen hot chocolate covered the hood of my car. It stayed until the temps rose above freezing four days later. Yet I was SO happy!

Families came out to celebrate a new tradition: A Christmas Adam family worship service completely led by the children and youth departments of the church less than a week after leading the charge and a year’s planning for an all-hands-on-deck Live Nativity and Bethlehem Experience the Sunday before.

The Campfire Checklist I gleaned last year from a church in Evans, Georgia who modified theirs this year to have the service inside with their firepits under their covered portico. The checklist built energy and let folks know that ‘though the weather outside is frightful, the fire is so delightful…’

Next year, Christmas Eve is on a Sunday and there are five Sundays after Thanksgiving. We will present Campfire Christmas again on the first Sunday in Advent, hopefully outside which was the original plan. Have you looked at your Advent calendar for next year yet? Having conversations and making decisions now while everything is still fresh will help guide you to lead your volunteers and families through a smooth, engaging, and well-planned-though-delightfully-pivotable Advent next year.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29