The Griswold (Herlong) Family Lights the Advent Wreath

Just when you think the curse of Clark Griswold no longer haunts the Herlongs, my family found yet one more way to make Christmas a festive and dazzling celebration.

When I received the email from church that my family would be given the honor of lighting the fourth candle of the Advent wreath during of church service, I thought: No problem. We got this.

The ceremony was to be in three parts:
• The reading of the scripture
• The reading the meaning of the scripture
• The lighting of the candle.

I appointed myself the easiest job—the candling lighting.

When we arrived at church, our minister informed us that the scripture we intended to read was incorrect and that we needed to refer to our email. Our minister also gave strict instructions NOT TO LIGHT the big center candle since it is the Christmas candle.

When we were introduced, I glanced at our minister. My foreboding expression warned her of things to come and the coming of those things did not leave me feeling hopeful.

As a professional speaker I am accustomed to putting aside my fears, so I grabbed the acolyte candle lighter and began to dislocate my thumb by pushing the do-dad thingy that makes the wick pop out. Finally, after practically breaking a nail, the long wick made its appearance.

With the wick lit, I stepped towards the large brass lighter encircling the Advent Wreath. That’s when the Griswold Curse kicked in. To my horror, a ball of fire broke off, flew through the air and landed on the railing of our 187 year-old historic church.

Behind me folks in the congregation were whispering, “It’s on fire.”

If there had been a visiting Pentecostal, they would have shouted, “Praise Jesus! It’s the flaming tongues of the Holy Spirit!”

“Caroline, do something!” I said.

She blew the ball of fire onto the floor and then proceeded to stomp the combustible ball of fire into the finely woven threads of our church’s expensive carpet. All the while, Thomas stood behind us appearing completely clueless while he scrolled through his phone looking for who knows what — maybe a ball score — though later he swore he was only trying to locate the church service. He continued this line of testimony even after we pointed out to him that the church service was printed in front of him on a piece of paper.

“Well,” I said to the congregation, “we look like the Griswold Family lighting the Advent Wreath.” Our church burst out laughing.


I think I mentioned I’m a professional speaker who is accustomed to rising above my fears and making the most of any situation: even my family’s torching of a church on Christmas.

Trying to restore normalcy to our sacred ritual, I managed to successfully lite all four candles.Thomas looked at me and said, “Light the middle candle.”
“No.” This I said with the conviction of someone certain they were one mistake away from spending eternity in a place where fires of all kinds never end. “That is the Christmas candle. Is it Christmas Day? NO!”

So right there in front of a church full of people recording on their phones for all of YouTube World to watch later, Thomas, Caroline and I put on a dazzling show of heavenly splendor, made everyone laugh, and got into a couple tiff about which candle to light. 

Let me just say that in my humble opinion, our Advent Lighting may very well have presented a accurate rendition of the birth of Christ than much of what we read books and see in movies.

During the birth of Christ there was:
• There was a ball of fire in the sky. Check.
• Some clueless men (shepherds) standing around. Check.
• Some wise guys arguing over directions. Check.

I would also be willing to bet that when it was all over Mary and Joseph laid back on bales of hay scented with the aroma of donkey potty and laughed. Just think….their boy born in a stable  would help the world overcome any curse– even the curse of the Griswolds.


Jane Jenkins Herlong is a Southern Humorist  and frequently heard on SiriusXM Radio. Jane is also a professional singer, author of five books and travels across the country sharing her Sweet Tea Wisdom and Southern-Fried Humor.

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