Saturday 22 December 2012

Christmas in the warm

Spending Christmas in South Africa as a foreigner is great if it's a planned holiday or chance of a lifetime excursion. However, if your home is elsewhere and you end up staying in a foreign country because of circumstance, then the experience is somewhat different. Though intensely beautiful and such a privilege to be in the warm during the winter, those of us who are not from here, feel the distance from home and family even stronger during this season.

As my wife and I prepare the house for our guests on Christmas day (shopping, cleaning, sorting), we feel that twinge of pain that is felt by all those who cannot journey home for Christmas. It is somewhat compounded by the fact that my wife's grandma died earlier this year, and for the last 10 or so years, we always spent Christmas day with her family at 'gran's house' in the UK.  So, as we speak over Skype with those close relatives that usually join us, we are all feeling somewhat 'out of place' in our various locations.

However, today, as I sit with my coffee to plan the worship music for church on Sunday and for Christmas day, I notice an update to Chris Lautsbaugh's blog (a fellow YWAM colleague). This year his family was able to travel back to the States to see family. But with more than 20 years mission work under his belt, he has spent a fair few Christmas holidays on the mission field. Here are some of the tips that he had, and I think they're worth sharing for anyone who finds themselves away from home this Christmas:

1. Acknowledge Things Will Be Different
In order to succeed in celebrating, you have to be in the right frame of mind, or you start miserable. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking we can make a “mini-Britain” (or wherever you are from) Christmas on location.

2. Establish New Traditions
How does the nation you are in celebrate? Embracing a new custom can be one of the best parts of the season. South African’s celebrate with the braai. A braai is a  BBQ on steroids. It take most of the day while you slowly cook food and socialize. The main course is meat and more meat. Chicken is considered a vegetable. We started a tradition of cooking some nice meat, making a casual afternoon of relaxing and enjoying the company of some of our friends. We have also added a camping vacation to this season as Christmas falls over the kid’s summer school holidays.

3. Something Old, Something New
Find a tradition you can replicate in addition to new customs. We still find a Christmas tree, even though it makes the tree from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” look like a prize winner! Our kids make ornaments rather than pulling antiques out of storage.

4. Find Community
Don’t spend it alone. Let me say this again. Find someone to celebrate with. Self pity and mourning will creep in otherwise. Invite friends, others missionaries, or even some of your co-workers for a meal and fellowship.

5. Use Technology
You can still “attend” the gatherings back home with the increase in technology. As you tell the stories of your celebration, don’t be surprised if people at home are a bit jealous of the nice weather and fun you are having!

So, if you are discouraged. Don’t give up. Keep trying things till you embrace a new tradition. Whether you are home or abroad, invest the time it takes to make this celebration special.

All throughout the Bible, celebrations were times of remembrance. Israel needed to pause and takes stock; remembering who they were and what God had done for them. Don’t let a change in geography rob you or your family from creating memories. And of course, celebrate Jesus breaking into time and space, forever changing the planet.

Merry Christmas!

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