- What’s an item that you carried from North America to your adopted homeland because, without it, it wouldn’t seem like Christmas?
When we packed up our needed possessions into three large totes, in them we had three Christmas ornaments: a couple perched on a sliver of the moon, a horse-drawn sled pulling a young couple through glittering snow, and a sleek airplane to signify our move ahead. The ornaments represented each of the years we had been married, and they were the only Christmas mementoes we brought with us when we moved to Central Asia. Each year we continued to add to our collection of ornaments. Last year I wrote, The Story of Our Christmas Ornaments for Thrive.
- What’s a tradition you carried with you to your adopted home to keep Christmas alive in your heart and instill it into your family?
After spending two Christmases in our adopted culture, we wised-up on what we missed from our home culture. On a furlough, we bought some of our favorite Christmas music/Christmas worship music, Christmas movies, and books. Ever year in December we indulged, we listened to Christmas music, and spread the Christmas movies out over the weeks to enjoy and create Christmas spirit. As our children got older, we started Christmas celebrations with the beginning of Advent. We added the tradition of reading an Advent story. Usually they were divided out in 25 chapters, one for each day leading up to Christmas. Two of our favorites are The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder and Jotham’s Journey by Arnold Ytreeide.
- What does Christmas look like through the lens of the people [general population] where you serve? Do they understand Christmas intellectually? theologically?
The country in which we served is predominantly Muslim, so mainly their brush with Christmas comes from television. I was peppered with questions about Christmas trees, Santa Claus, gift giving, and decorating. I always enjoyed these discussions, though connecting Santa Claus and Jesus, is a stretch in any language. It was easier to steer the discussion to the true meaning of Christmas.
- Do the people you work with have misconceptions about what Christians believe and why we celebrate Christmas?
The virgin birth of Jesus was very difficult for people to understand. In my adopted country, people predominantly thought this meant that for God to have a son, he must have been married. The conversations were mainly started with…“No, God was never married.” The objective was to try and move past this theological hang up to explain the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas is a part of the gospel story, so focusing on the fact that the birth of Christ was the beginning of God dwelling with humankind opens up discussion about our need for Christ.
- [Tell us a story about] How do you invite your friends to celebrate your holidays with you?
In Central Asia where we lived, the expatriate community often worked together when it came to celebrating and sharing Christmas with our friends from our host country. One year a live nativity was presented, complete with donkey, sheep, and a baby Jesus. This was held under a large tent, and in the local language a recording of the story was given, while the parts we know so well…the Angel Gabriel, young Mary, trusting Joseph, the wise men, and the shepherds were all acted out. This was done twice due to culturally sensitivity, once for the women and another time for the men. Sweets and tea were served as well. This is probably my favorite memory of sharing Christmas.
- [Tell us a story about] How do your local friends invite you to celebrate their holidays with them? Do you have any concerns that your participation being interpreted as condoning? (especially in cases where it’s a religious holiday)
We often heard from our co-workers, language teachers, and neighbors “It is Eid. You must come to my house for Eid”. Holidays celebrated in Central Asia are not exclusive to families. These holidays are celebrated within neighborhoods and communities. The traditional way to celebrate is to go house to house, have tea and sweets with the host, and wish them Happy Eid, and then to go to the next house. Our co-workers and neighbors would often be offended if we didn’t show up at their house. It was a great time to honor them with a visit, and to let them know we cared about them.
In this type of context, it was a community-wide celebration, and it was more offensive to stay home. In many ways, it felt no different than if we had invited a foreign-exchange student from a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas to experience Christmas for the first time. By celebrating their holidays with them, it was easy to ask people to listen to what Christmas and Easter were all about. These celebration times were bridge building times to deeper relationships.