Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Christmas past and present

Every year something reminds me of past Christmases, but it was only today that I realized how wonderfully varied they have been. Just as I've kept our annual Christmas newsletters - which I started almost before photocopying was invented - so I should try to keep an inventory of all the different ways I have spent Christmas Day.

Of course, until I grew up and left home, Christmas Day was always exactly the same. Church - the obligatory attendance at Mass - was got over with as early as we kids could be dragged out of bed. Then home for present opening: each person had an individual pile of presents which were torn open in a frantic frenzy. How we ever kept track of who gave us what, I don't know. Then came lunch, hopefully over just in time for the Queen's speech. (One memorable year, an elderly relative - who couldn't wait - demanded to be taken to the toilet right in the middle of Her Majesty's orations.) Then television, chocolates, hanging around and waiting for tea time with Christmas cake which we were too full to eat. And more television. And more.

My Christmases changed after I went to Africa.

My first Christmas in Kenya was spent with dear friends who lived an idyllic life on a smallholding outside Nairobi. Following the mother's German tradition, we celebrated on Christmas Eve. It was a revelation to find that presents were selected randomly from the tree, one at a time, then presented to the recipient while we watched and rejoiced. It took two days to open them all!

My second Christmas in Africa was spent in Cote d'Ivoire, travelling with my brother. I can't remember Christmas Day itself, save that it was humidly hot in the dusty little town we were staying in.

My third Christmas was my first one as a wife. We spent that year, and the subsequent year, with Richard's sister who lives near Mount Kenya. Our celebrations were eerily reminiscent of my childhood: the only difference was that we went to the tiny local church on Christmas Eve, and that the weather was warm. And there was no television.

The following year was our first with friends: two young American couples, who have remained friends - even though we live on three continents - to this day. We shared secret Santa presents, bidding for each others' gifts, reading the Christmas story, and laughing until our sides ached. And still no television!

Then there were several years of huge parties with other expatriates and missionaries as all gathered together. We introduced each other to festive jellies - eaten with turkey; to Christmas pudding; to pound cake, smothered in icing; to snickerdoodles and peppernusse. Our children learnt to celebrate cross-culturally, multi-nationally, multi-lingually.

That set the scene for celebrating with friends: no two Christmases were the same. Yet there was always one constant: we were all followers of Jesus, ecstatic at the news of his birth, remembering with thankfulness.

And still no television.

It will be the same again this year!

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