Our first Christmas in-country was rather depressing. We did the best we could with a little fake tree and some red and green ornaments to make our home festive. We found a Christmas concert to attend, although the well-known carols made us more homesick for our familiar family traditions. I woke up the morning of Christmas Eve with food poisoning and spent the entire day in bed, feeling sorry for myself and just trying to keep down a piece of toast (which wasn’t very successful). We didn’t know how to find a Christmas Eve service, and since I was still feeling pretty weak, we stayed home on Christmas day and made some tortilla pinwheels and corn chowder, since soup for Christmas is a tradition for both of our families. But it was hard for it to really feel like Christmas when it was 90 degrees outside and I was far away from my family, watching them open presents on the grainy video chat and praying the internet held on long enough.
I’ve always loved the days leading up to Christmas. My family had so many ways of making those moments special, things that may have seemed different or strange to others but were our traditions. Those things defined Christmas for me- singing in a church cantata as a kid, picking out our real Christmas tree from Boomgars on a chilly Sunday afternoon, our favorite ornaments that were supplemented each year by my aunt and uncle, snuggling in a chair reading once we got out on Christmas vacation, the sibling sleepover in the girls’ room and counting down the seconds until 7:00 a.m. when we could be released to run out to the living room to greet my parents and open our stockings. Christmas day was full of family and cousins and a present or two (I was always SOO stoked for the new books I usually received) and a yummy meal.
Christmas is just an ordinary day in the country in which I currently reside. They have started to like Santa in the big city, putting up big inflatable versions of him and selling little kid costumes. I’ve heard that there is a large Christmas tree in the new mall, but I’m a 9-hour bus ride from that at the moment. Few people in the little village I live in have even heard of the holiday.
So where does that leave me? Longing for what I’ve always know of Christmas, or giving up the celebration of the day altogether? I’m finding my balance this year, looking at Christmas in a new way. I have WONDERFUL memories of Christmas with my family, and I can let them be just that: sweet memories of favorite family traditions. They don’t have to define the holiday, but they will always have a special place in my heart. And now I get to choose how to celebrate December 25th, finding ways to make the holiday fun and creating more precious memories. So there were pine-scented candles tucked in a suitcase, some extra decorations homemade by my mom, and recipes on Pinterest for Christmas cookies that fit our diet and village-life restrictions. We now know about a Christmas Eve service where we’ll gather to sing those familiar carols and dig for joy-treasure all together. Ultimately, I will ponder what it means to seek after Jesus like the wise-men and shepherds, to wonder at the gift of salvation and let the the burden of souls who do not yet know of this gift sink into my heart once again. I will kneel before the throne to offer Him my meager gifts, my heart and my obedience. This will be my Christmas.