As darkness descends on Christmas Eve, the last present wrapped and placed under the tree marks the end of the pre-holiday rush.
Maybe, then, people can look to the real meaning of the holy day.
Most families feel a need to worship and to thank their God for the gift of his son. Part of that celebration is gathering together in houses of worship, said Rev. Bruce H. Weaver, pastor of Edgewood Church of the Brethren. Churches call people to them on Christmas.
"It's the time we rededicate our lives to walk with the Lord," said Weaver.
We need to honor Christ's birth as an integral part in his life, death and resurrection, he added.
"By honoring God's love for his son, we all give a gift of love to ourselves and to others," said Rev. Martin H. Demek, pastor of St.
Bartholomew's Catholic Church in Manchester. "It's a wonderful present, too. It doesn't need to be purchased or wrapped in ribbons."
Area pastors say more people attend Christmas services than those at any other time of the year.
"More people come to church on Christmas than any other day," said Demek. "Our weekly attendance figure of 700 usually doubles."
Anticipating about 600 people at 4 p.m. Mass in the small chapel, which seats about 200, Demek asked a neighbor church for help. Immanuel Lutheran Church will lend its facilities for additional Masses at 4 and 5:30 p.m.
Worshipers also can attend 6 p.m. and midnight Masses at St.
Bartholomew's. On Tuesday, Masses are at 9 and 10:30 a.m. at the Park Avenue church. Information: 239-8881.
"Whether people come once a year or every week, we are happy they come to praise God," he said.
The feast of Christmas is wound around words like joy, peace, and happiness.
Because God wanted to help man achieve these abstracts, he sent his son to the world, said Msgr. Joseph C. Antoszewski, pastor of St. John's Catholic Church in Westminster.
"God must really love us a lot," said Antoszewski. "He could have abandoned us. Instead he sent us his only son to help us."
The church, on Monroe Street, has Masses at 4, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Monday. Carols begin at 11:30 p.m. followed by midnight Mass. On Christmas day, the priests will say Mass at 7:15, 8:45, 10:30 a.m. and noon.
Some congregations devote a special time to their children this holiday.
Westminster United Methodist will have a 7 p.m. service to provide a unique worship opportunity for its younger members.
Celebrants will encourage children to tell their versions of the Christmas story. Each child also will receive a small gift.
The church plans two identical traditional Christmas Eve services at 9 and 11 p.m. Information: 848-8325.
"We have many young families with small children in our congregation," said Godfrey Jarabak, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, Eldersburg. "We developed a special worship for them."
The children, dressed as angels and shepherds, will take part in the 4 p.m. service Monday. The younger members of the congregation also will read selected scripture verses.
A 7:30 p.m. candlelight communion service follows. At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the pastor will give a brief homily at a carol service. Information: 795-8082.
Carol C. Yocum, pastor of Calvary United Methodist Church, invites children to participate in a "Happy Birthday Jesus" celebration, after the actual holy day, at 8:30 and 11 a.m. Dec. 30.
The children bring bells, which they ring throughout the hymns. They also bring gifts for Baby Jesus, which are donated to the Crisis Pregnancy Center in Frederick.
Several other churches plan late evening services on Christmas Eve.
Demek said the tradition of midnight services probably stems from the belief that Christ was born in the middle of the night.
Messiah United Methodist in Taneytown plans an 11 p.m. service Monday, with a Candlelight Carol Festival, followed by Pastor Victor E. Harner's sermon, "He Is Born."
"We celebrate the infant born of such humble beginnings whose life had such an impact on the world," said Harner. "We need to celebrate that great joy and keep it alive through each day of the year."
Harner said although those "Jesus is the reason for the season" buttons may sound trite, the slogan has merit.
Some other services scheduled for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day include:
* St. John's United Methodist, Hampstead, will have a family service at 7 p.m. Monday during which the junior choir and teens will sing. A Candlelight Christmas Service begins at 11 p.m. Information: 374-9133.
* Calvary United Methodist, Mount Airy, plans three Candlelight Holy Communion Services Monday at 4 p.m., with the children's choir, 7:30, with the Youth Choir, and 11, with the Adult Choir and the Youth Bell Choir. The church also will have a live nativity outside. Information: 829-0368.
* Ebenezer United Methodist Church, Winfield, will have Candlelight Christmas Eve Worship at 7 and 11 p.m. Monday. Information: 795-6136.
* Union Bridge United Methodist will have a communion and candlelight service at 11 p.m. Monday. Information: 775-2644.
* Church of the Open Door, Westminster, plans two Christmas Eve services at 7 and 8:15 p.m. Information: 876-3838.
* Westminster Baptist Church, 354 Crest Lane, will have Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at 7 p.m. Information: 848-6330.
* Sam's Creek Church of the Brethren, New Windsor, will have its celebration Saturday with a Christmas Vesper Service and Candlelighting for Peace at 7:30 p.m. Information: 848-0687.