This is my second Christmas that I won’t be home with my family in Michigan. It feels weird. It doesn’t feel like I’m missing Christmas with my family. Maybe because I’m sitting in a puddle of sweat just from breathing. Maybe because it feels like “just another day in TZ”. Christmas isn’t a season here. It is just one day.
I do miss the Christmas season. The anticipation. The excitement that fills the air, random acts of kindness (even though they should be happening year round!), Christmas music filling the air, decorated houses, celebrations, first snowfall, Meijer Gardens Christmas Around the World (even if they do have an “African” Christmas tree… Africa is not a country!), cutting the Christmas tree, and creating memories with family and friends.
This year, I was able to go to a lodge with a few friends and escape the Dar es Salaam humidity for a few days. Tonight I am looking forward to attending a candlelight Christmas eve service and tomorrow a friend and I will have lunch on the beach followed by a big Christmas party with a bunch of families. I am thankful once again for my “family” here and the memories I am creating with them.
In the US, stores start decorating in October so everything is ready Nov. 1. Christmas music is “acceptable” the day after Thanksgiving but some of us push it to start Nov. 1 as well. Here, IF there are decorations in the stores, they start to appear in December. Homes are only decorated a few days before Christmas, if at all. Its only been recent years that some family have started putting up Christmas trees. Christmas music? The looks I get when I start it before Dec. 1… should be later than that the kids tell me. Besides, in their opinion, Christmas music is just weird. Think about it, how many talk about snow, cold, and very American traditions?
My home church in Michigan did a Christmas program this year about Christmas around the world. They asked me to do a short video about Christmas traditions in Tanzania to show during the program. I was happy to get a few of my students to help me. I didn’t think there were many traditions… if any. They laughed when I asked and said, as I already assumed, there really weren’t any other than some tribes will travel back to their tribal regions to celebrate with extended family. I also found out they don’t exchange gifts. It is a family day… and just one day.
Ok, so I kinda knew that already. But my students attend a westernized Christian school. I was sure they knew several Christmas traditions. As we planned the Christmas Family Fun Day, class Christmas parties, and talked about Christmas traditions through games in Life Skills class, I realized it was a good thing I was taking about traditions as most wouldn’t have known when they went to university. From not knowing about the gifts of the three wisemen to the traditions of the mistletoe (probably a good one not to know!), and why in the world would anyone want a hippopotamus for Christmas? They are one of the most dangerous animals in Tanzania!
Learning about cultural traditions opens great doors to conversations about faith, Jesus coming to earth as a baby, how we have materialized the holiday and have lost sight of the greatest miracle! But we all celebrate that very event around the world. With over 30 countries represented at HOPAC, we all celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. For God so loved the world that He sent His son! Take time this Christmas to meditate on this. He LOVED you so much He sent His son as a baby to live among us knowing one day he would hang on the cross for your sins, to pay the ultimate price so that you can spend eternity with Him. This baby, Emmanuel, God with us, is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Hallelujah!