AUBURN — It may be the uplifting carols, beautiful greens and flowers that draw people to Christmas services.
For others, it could be the darkness softened by candles, or a message that God loves them and their presence is welcome.
Like other churches, when the First Universalist Church Christmas Eve services begin this afternoon, the place will be packed.
“There are at least twice as many people attending,” the Rev. Jodi Hayashida said.
For many, Christmas without church would be a Christmas with less meaning.
“It’s Christ’s birth,” Jim Simones said. “That’s the reason we go.”
Simones and his wife, Linda, are regulars at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Lewiston.
Going to service is like going home and visiting family, they said.
“Our kids have gone since they were little,” Linda said. “They continue to go.”
Other non-regulars who fill the pews are from away, here to visit family. Going to church at Christmas is part of their tradition.
Others have no religious affiliation with Lewiston’s Catholic Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, but attend anyway.
“They want to go somewhere for service,” Monsignor Marc Caron said. “They come to us. We’re kind of obvious in town. We’re very happy to welcome people.”
Aware there are lots of new faces who are open to inspiration, “we try to be clear why we’re rejoicing,” Caron said. “What’s wonderful about Christmas is it opens people to the possibility that there’s more than what is in front of them in life. It’s a message that God comes to us in a non-threatening way — as a child.”
As part of her message, Hayashida ties in the birth of Christ to today’s families, listing the names of new babies born to the congregation families the past year.
The three Catholic churches — the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Holy Family and Holy Cross — will offer a total of 13 services Wednesday and Thursday. Each church will hold a 4 p.m. Wednesday service, which is the most popular time to attend. Holy Family will offer a second 4 p.m. service for children in the hall.
“All those locations are full,” Caron said.
Attendance at the midnight and Christmas services is lighter, but still more than a typical weekend.
Because some people who will attend don’t go to church the rest of the year, Hayashida wants to get her sermon right.
“I definitely feel pressure filled with joy,” Hayashida said. “People are so hungry for hope and good news. This might be the one time they get it in a place like this. I want it to be meaningful. I want to reach their hearts, give them something that sticks with them.”
The Rev. Casey Collins of Lewiston’s Calvary United Methodist Church agreed, saying that through the Christmas services, “we try to replant the seed of whatever brought them here and get it growing again.”
A big part of many services is the music, and choirs practice for Christmas for weeks.
At the Calvary United Methodist Church, the Christmas Eve service is dedicated to families with the Christmas story told in song, Collins said.
Instead of a lecture, Collins will share the story in song and through the alphabet. Each letter will introduce a piece of the story.
“The letter ‘A’ is for the Angel, Gabriel. ‘B’ is for Bethlehem. ‘C’ is for the census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Hopefully, the kids will think about it beyond Christmas.”
At Lewiston’s Trinity Episcopal Church, the 7 p.m. Christmas Eve service will offer plenty of carols and a short homily.
The downtown church reaches out to the poor, those recently released from jail, the hospital, the evicted and the homeless.
“They’re all welcome,” the Rev. Stephen Crowson said. “We’re involved in helping people at the margin rather than say they should do something to help themselves.”
His sermon focused on how Christ was born in a temporary shelter — a stable — tying in today’s reality of homelessness.
Several churches, including the Pathway Vineyard in Lewiston, end their Christmas Eve service with candlelight while the congregation sings “Silent Night.” Ministers said the beautiful song and atmosphere are inspiring.
The Rev. Allen Austin said he hopes to convey that “God is a relatable God. He came to Earth to be one of us.”
While shopping and gifts are a big part of Christmas, people also tap into their roots and reflect on what the season means.
“Society desperately needs it right now,” Austin said, with terrible acts committed in Maine, the country and across the world.
“My job is to help people in the midst of chaos realize there’s still hope,” he said. “Hope is available.”
Some of the area Christmas services:
East Auburn Baptist Church: Masses, Wednesday, 4 and 6 p.m., 560 Park Ave.
First Universalist Church: Mass, Wednesday, 7 p.m., 169 Pleasant St.
Sacred Heart Church: Family masses, Wednesday, 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Midnight Mass, Thursday at midnight.
St. Philip Church: Mass, Wednesday, 4 p.m. Christmas Day Mass, Thursday, 9:15 a.m.
Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul: Mass, Wednesday, 4 p.m., Ash Street. Midnight Mass, Thursday at midnight.
Calvary United Methodist Church: Christmas Eve of carols, scripture and ABCs, Wednesday, 7 p.m., 59 Sabattus St. Swahili Christian services, Thursday, 10 a.m. and noon.
Holy Cross: Masses, Wednesday, 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., Lisbon Street. Midnight Mass, Thursday, midnight. Christmas Day Mass, 9 a.m.
Holy Family: Masses, Wednesday, 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., Sabattus Street. Children’s mass, 4 p.m. in the church hall. Midnight Mass, Thursday at midnight.
Pathway Vineyard Church: Family services at 5 and 7 p.m., 10 Foss Road. Contemplative service, Wednesday, 11 p.m.
Trinity Episcopal Church: Service, Wednesday, 7 p.m., 247 Bates St.