New Christmas traditions here are older than the annual nativity at the Carillon, except, of course, Christmas itself. Long sponsored by Richmond's department of recreation and parks, it's our version of a European passion play. This year, in addition to (or instead of) making the trek to Byrd Park and awaiting the shepherds and wise men, why not discover the religious traditions in your own neighborhood? The holidays are a terrific excuse to visit other congregations and explore different faiths and denominations. Or maybe you've just always wanted to see what the inside of that attractive church looked like. This time of the year, churches knock themselves out to present an array of services, pageants and special programs. Pick any neighborhood and you'll find churches bustling with activity and extending a welcome. On Christmas Eve at Third Bethel A.M.E. (downtown at 614 N. Third St., in the shadow of the convention-center construction site), the service will be at 11 a.m. following a morning Christmas pageant. Expect singing: "It's one day when the choir loft really fills up," a parishioner assures us. Across town at Woodland Heights Baptist (on West 31st Street near James River Park), members of the church will go caroling in the South Side neighborhood on Sunday, Dec. 17 at 5 p.m. The church will hold a special candlelight service at 5 p.m. Christmas Eve. First Presbyterian Church (on Cary Street Road near Windsor Farms) will have three services on Christmas Eve at 11 a.m. (worship will include a pageant), at 5 p.m. and also at 11. In Glen Allen, St. Michael's Catholic Church (4491 Springfield Road) will have its usual massesat 11 a.m. and later that day at 3:30, 6 and 10 p.m. St. Thomas Episcopal, at 3602 Hawthorne Ave. in Ginter Park, will be holding three services on Christmas Eve at 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and a late-night communion service at 10:30 p.m. Getting a jump on the festivities, St. Thomas will present an "Advent Adventure" Dec. 13. This family-oriented evening will include crafts activities and a potluck supper. "Bring your favorite dish," said a church spokeswoman. "But even if you don't, there'll be plenty to eat." God bless us, every
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