For some, it is that first Christmas song they hear on the radio. For others, it is the unpacking of trunks full or ornaments, lights and memories as you prepare to set up your tree. For many, it is seeing all of the Christmas merchandise hit the store shelves around early August (it gets earlier every year). Everyone has that moment where Christmas season sets in. At least, everyone in the States.
I live in a world with no Christmas.
There are no decorations. There are no strings of lights hanging on huts or little banners decorating the telephone poles that do not exist. There is no man dressed in a Santa outfit ringing a bell outside of the Walmart that is not here. The temperature is as hot as ever, and the palm trees have no hope of getting covered with snow this year. In a country that has never been Christian, Christmas does not exist. It appears the Grinch got his way in this little spot on the map. If your children have questions about how Santa can make it all the way around the world in one night, you can ease their mind by letting them know he does not visit the children who live here.
Needless to say, it has been a challenge getting into the “Christmas spirit” here. It is hard for me to realize it is the most wonderful time of year, when it seems like any other day. Sure, we have put up our tree, and the house is completely decorated. We gathered this past Sunday with our small handful of believers and sang Christmas carols at church. I even made eggnog… from scratch. (If anyone with my organization is reading, have no fear, it was not spiked.) Yet, despite the efforts by our small band of workers and local believers to ring in the holiday season, it has been hard for me to get into the mood to shop for presents.
To be certain, shopping in itself is quite the different experience here. Obviously, buying for the friends and family back at home has its challenges. Thankfully, the Internet has provided me a way to get something under the tree of a select few people at home. So if you wind up with a box from Amazon.com or Ebay on your doorstep with my name on it… just put it under your tree and do not open it until Christmas. I apologize for the bad wrapping job, but I could not promise you it would be much better had I been in the States. For others still, I will try to send some African trinkets home with the next short term team that comes out. I want a little something to get back home so people do realize they are still on my mind, and that I think of them and pray for them.
All of that seems so impersonal though, and it reminds me of how materialistic gift-giving has become. As with so many other situations here, God has taught me a lesson about the importance of gifts.
Truly, some gifts are far more important than others. In the coming weeks, I want to share with you what this culture has taught me about gift-giving.
After all, Christmas is indeed the celebration of a gift given.
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