Tradition is a word that comes to mind when I realize that the season of Advent is underway. Growing up in a large family with everyone attending First Baptist Church was a tradition that started for me soon after I was born, and Pauline Cargill Powers (my maiden name) was written in swirly cursive on a piece of diploma-like parchment paper that said: “First Baptist Cradle Roll.”
To me, Advent conjures up memories of Sunday School lessons leading up to Christmas and familiar holiday hymns sung in church the weeks approaching Dec. 25th. Attending Sunday School and church was a tradition for the Powers family from as far back as I can remember. It is a tradition that has continued with my family, including Steve, and our girls, Polly and Mary, when they were growing up.
First Baptist Christmas memories were something all my siblings experienced as well. By definition, tradition is the transmission of information, customs, or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way. Not too long ago, while going through a box of papers stored in my home office, I stumbled upon the certificate that my parents were given by the church in the 1950s when I was brought forth into this world.
I am the youngest of five children and the unofficial family historian – in other words, the child who ended up with most of the boxes of newspaper clippings, certificates, photos and other memorabilia that my parents stored in their attic, closets, and desk drawers. Every now and then I plunder through the boxes and find treasures that I had no idea existed.
Along with my cradle roll certificate I found similar certificates for my siblings, church programs, and an oversized glossy, black and white photo of my older twin sisters as 4-year-olds participating in a church choir program. It’s humorous to me that our first cousin, who was about their age is in the photo because he attended the Presbyterian church. But First Baptist has always been a welcoming congregation.
Throughout the years, even when my sisters had families of their own and were living in Atlanta, they made the journey home to Savannah each and every Christmas. It was a tradition that continued until my parents died. My nieces who are married with families still recall the family custom of Christmases in Savannah and attending First Baptist on Christmas Eve, which also is the twins’ birthday. The nieces and their cousins grew up going to the 5:30 p.m. candlelight services and smile when they recall longtime soloist Earnest Murphy and the cadence of “Congregation, Arise.”
We would light candles and then walk out to the front steps and sing Christmas carols. More than once it was freezing. Afterward we all would dine at Carey Hilliard’s and then congregate at my parents’ house for a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” sung before a birthday cake from Baker’s Pride. Among the traditions for my family is Christmas at First Baptist Church. Let us be thankful for those traditions that also unite us all as a church family.
- Polly Stramm
Click here to listen to John Rutter's "The Very Best Time of Year,"
performed by the Cambridge Singers.