As we enter the Christmas season, I wanted to look beyond our celebration here in the United States. So, I asked some of our IDEAS Associates how their view of Christmas has changed by living overseas.
- In Guatemala, no one exchanged gifts but there were several days of celebrations with music, drama, preaching, laughter, fun, and eating. The simple festivities helped our family to focus on the joy of celebrating as a community. What we learned from these experiences was that Christmas has much more meaning when the main focus of the holiday is to relate with and celebrate with other people around us. Christmas brought people together no matter who they were.
- In India, Christmas is not celebrated by most people but it continues to be the primary holiday for those who celebrate the birth of Jesus. We visit each other and sing Christmas carols until after midnight each night over the course of two weeks. Naturally, the rest of the neighbors hear the songs and listen to the laughter so they are curious about what Christmas is about. It is a time of freely sharing and giving.
- In North Africa, there are few cultural signs of Christmas so we have to be very intentional in our celebration. When we experienced the loss of familiar traditions, we had to develop new, strong traditions to bring joy, meaning and bonding as a family. Since we weren’t with our own families, those around us became our family; team members, house help, lonely students and national friends. We invited this extended family to take part in our family celebration; such as baking and decorating Christmas cookies.
- We’ve come to value and love the simplicity. Everything is simpler: the calendar, the decorations, the gift giving, the focus. It has helped us to really focus on the meaning of Christmas.
- Since we are now living in the Middle East, living in this culture has helped the Christmas story come to life!
- Christmas gives us a reason to demonstrate love to others. Small gestures of kindness and hospitality can give a person hope and joy that there is goodness in the world. Sometimes they want to know more about us and why we are so full of hope and joy. People long for genuine kindness that is meant just for them, to know that we take notice of them. That is the greatest gift we can give others and the greatest blessing for us.
Having lived overseas myself, I love the focus on simplicity, demonstrating love to others and its true meaning apart from all the trappings of the season. I hope to remember these small lessons during December this year. Merry Christmas!
About the Author: Barb is the IDEAS Director of Community Life and has celebrated Christmas with her family in Africa and Europe.