Churches throughout the area will be holding services to celebrate the birth of Christ tonight.
Some will begin when the first stars appear in the sky, others will wait until midnight. But no matter when the service starts or their denomination, Christians say it is a meaningful service and one they rarely miss.
One of the most well-known services is the Catholic midnight Mass.
(Courtesy photo) Cameron Norris and his mother, Terra Norris Gartmann of Roaring Spring, light their candles from the flame passed from another worshipper at First Church of the Brethren during a recent holiday service. Tonight, Christians will hold services to celebrate the birth of Christ that occurred about 2,000 years ago
Monsignor Robert C. Mazur, rector of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, said the church is packed with standing room only at the 5 p.m. Christmas Eve vigil. Another 900 to 1,000 local Catholics attend the midnight Mass where Bishop Joseph Adamec will preside.
Among them is Dave Kimmel of Altoona, who said, "it's a true perspective of what Christmas is all about."
He said the Cathedral is decorated with lighted Christmas trees in the side chapels, a creche and poinsettias at the altar.
For him, the Mass is the beginning of the celebration of the 12 days of Christmas and puts him in a reflective mood after it ends.
"It's beautiful," he said.
Mary Ellen Jones of Tyrone agrees. Jones, a parishioner at St. Matthew Catholic Parish in Tyrone, converted to the faith from the United Methodist denomination about 10 years ago.
She said her husband had died and her son's family was of the Catholic faith.
"I had always liked the Mass and love the liturgy," she said. "When I finally converted, I felt like I had come home."
One of her desires was to attend midnight Christmas Mass at the Cathedral, but it always got too late to attend until one year when her grandson agreed to go.
She said after the Mass, he said to her, "Thank you. I'm glad I came."
"Midnight Mass at the Cathedral is spectacular," she said. "The pageantry, the organ, the choir singing, the Scriptures, the poinsettias on the altar. It's just beautiful."
"There is a mystery about midnight Mass," Jones said, who is serving as a Eucharistic minister at St. Matthew's Church tonight.
"It is a joyful time," she said. "It brings to the forefront the birth of Christ. It's a renewal of your faith. You sing carols and realize that 2,000 years ago Christ was born and is alive today."
"It's very meaningful to me, very spiritual," Jones said.
Teresa Lang and Louise Gioiosa, both of Altoona, enjoy the traditions, including carols sung in German, that are part of midnight Mass at St. Mary Parish of Altoona.
"You walk in and get a warm feeling," Gioiosa said. "You see friends and family there."
"The services are beautiful. Monsignor [Timothy] Stein makes us feel like we're a part of the service," Gioiosa said.
You get to see the church in its glory - the poinsettias and other flowers, the large Christmas trees and the crib scene."
"It's a time to lose yourself and get away from it all," she said.
Lang said there is a reverence about it.
"People who go to this Mass are good Christians who go because they want to be there and it means something," she said.
Candlelight and the singing of "Silent Night" seems to be the most memorable part of Protestant service.
The Rev. Joe Surin of First Church of the Brethren in Roaring Spring recalls servicing as minister at the Grand Canyon.
Surin said when it came time to sing "Silent Night," he would ask the worshippers to look over at the wall of dark windows that looked out onto the canyon. The candlelight would bounce off the canyon and reflect in the glass making it appear that thousands of candles were lit.
"The canyon's secluded location, hundreds of miles from any cities, made it seem like we were having our own special Christmas Eve service," he said.
Betsy Garach of Roaring Spring and a member of First Church of the Brethren in Roaring Spring said, "It's an awesome atmosphere."
Garach said the service is special because "no matter how busy you are, how much hustle and bustle there is, you get to that moment and you pause. You absolutely realize for what reason you have the celebration and what all the preparations are for."
Nick Neal of Hollidaysburg and organist at First Church of the Brethren in Roaring Spring, said he enjoys watching the church light up row by row as he plays "Silent Night."
Joan Watters of Altoona and a member at Wehnwood United Methodist Church, said, "It's an inspirational service and very important to me."
The Rev. Evie Madison of Wehnwood United Methodist Church said, "there is something mystical about Christmas Eve that draws people to come that night."
"It's an expression of God's love made visible in a baby."