December in Swaziland seems a bit different from Christmas in North America. For one, it’s warm. I sleep with a light sheet, rest in the shade during the hottest part of the day, and don’t have a Christmas tree.
Sean’s really good about challenging me. I wanted to buy a gift for everyone I’ve ever known, liked, or talked to – let alone our family. And he said (I think somewhat jokingly), “Why don’t we celebrate Christ’s birth as the focus for Christmas?” I think it was a joke because he’s just not the type to make a birthday cake for Jesus. But it’s really gotten me thinking. I could have bought a mini Christmas tree for the equivalent of $4.20. For some reason I didn’t. Now, I’m starting to see WHY. Without a lot of “Christmas” decorations, no bundling up in scarves and gloves, no family (at least of the blood kind) to get together with, no Christmas presents to buy for my students, no Christmas parties to plan or go to, I’ve really gotten to contemplate.
What IS Christmas all about?
I love my memories of New York City at Christmas time. Now that’s the Christmas magic – the giant glimmering tree at Rockefeller Center, ice skating with friends, the outrageous, yet captivating window displays, peppermint everything, speciality coffee, days off work, people being nicer, Salvation Army Santas raising money for the least of us. I don’t believe in magic, but that’s the word I’d use to capture these moments – magic.
But somehow it seems I’m still missing something. Where I live now, in Swaziland, Christmas isn’t so much about a Christmas tree or presents. In the words of my tutor, “Well, I’m thinking that some Swazis do not have enough money to buy presents for their family. . . we are celebrating the birth of Jesus.” Here, the 14-year-old, now HIV positive new mom, doesn’t have the money to buy her baby a ‘baby’s first Christmas’ one-sie. I don’t write that, so you feel guilty if your little tyke has one. No, this writing isn’t about guilt, but rather discovery.
In examining my childhood memories, and let’s be honest- my adult ones too- I’ve realized that even though growing up my family still made gifts or cookies or food or shopped for people together, it didn’t feel like our Christmas was about STUFF. Honestly, someone asked me what the best Christmas present was – and I could NOT think of one! Totally blank. But if you asked me what my favorite Christmas-time memory was, I’d have loads!!!
And that’s it. I spent the time with people I love. It was a relation-centered gift. The gift of time, memories, hugs, love, selflessness, stories read together as a family. This year’s Christmastime occurs outside those familiar things, so I’ve searched.
In some of my searching, I remembered Advent. Can’t say there was much to remember. I’m a bad little Protestant. With a bit of shame, I crawled to google and typed it in.
My search led me here: [Advent Conspiracy] I’ll admit the ‘conspiracy’ part is why I clicked on the link. I spent the better part of my afternoon listening to a few of the teachings I found there, and searching Luke 1 & 2.
A few things I’ve lifted:
Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s Song starts with ‘Oh how my soul praises the Lord.’ She gives him glory. And vs 52 & 53 are subversive. In the 1980s, Guatemalan government banned this first Christmas song from being played in public. Why? Because they feared that if the poor, the oppressed, the struggling people listened to the words, they might be encouraged and start a riot.”
Well hot- diggity – Let’s listen to them! :
He (God) has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things [unlike the Herod of Mary’s day] and sent the rich away with empty hands.”
vs 55 “For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.”
Whew! She PRAISED God because through this God coming as a baby, through her, it was proof – that He cares for everyone – including the poorest and hungry – and fulfills his promises.
I recommend dedicating some time to searching the reasons behind what you’re doing. The 4 principles of this [Advent Conspiracy] encouraged me greatly, but they’re not rules. The end all-be all. Rather a discovery. That if I’m feeling a bit discontent with just buying a bunch of ish for people, then maybe I should lean in, listen a bit more, search, seek.
Keep on seeking, and you will find.
I’ve sought a Christmas tradition that Sean and I could root ourselves in. A few things that would create those same special memories with our one-day children that our parents created with us. I used to think Sean was Johnny Rain-cloud when it came to Christmas because he doesn’t care. No – he dislikes it even. I still secretly think sometimes ‘Gosh! How depressing! Not caring about Christmas!” But knowing his heart, I know it’s the consumption of things, the loss of Self and God in this season that we can easily experience. Perhaps this Advent can be an intense reminder for us. Rooted in the traditions of millions who have gone before. Millions who enter now. To worship a king who cares about the hungry, the poor, the rich, the full, and fulfills his promises.