Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Finding the Magic When Christmas Isn't Perfect

Liberia, age 6

My favorite childhood Christmas was the year I was in 7th grade.  Though we didn't know it at the time, it was my last Christmas in Liberia.  

That year, I had a lead part in the school Christmas production.  I was a chipmunk, and the fact that I found that exciting at age 12 explains a lot about missionary kids.  

Our neighbors on our mission station were from Arizona, and brought with them the Mexican tradition of luminarias, paper bag lanterns decorating the outside of their house.  My 7th grade year, we and a few other neighbors joined them, until our entire neighborhood street was filled with them.  The beauty, the stillness of that warm tropical Christmas eve, under a million stars, with our paper bag lanterns lining the road, far surpassed any electric Christmas lights I saw in America.  

I remember I loved my Christmas presents that year.  And yet the only specific gift I remember receiving was a silly little handmade stuffed creature who made its home in a coconut shell--something my mom had bought from a local artisan.  Gifts in Liberia were very hard to come by in those days, yet I never remember feeling deprived.

That Christmas eve, thieves broke into our home and stole our boom box and my mom's purse.  Yet even that event couldn't steal my joy, as we were thankful they didn't take our presents or our turkey defrosting in the kitchen sink.  That Christmas, one of our guests that filled our home put a sparkler in that turkey.  

From that day on, it remained in my memory as The Perfect Christmas.

Today, that memory amuses me.  We had no cold weather, a tree that would have made even Charlie Brown sad, rather pathetic presents, and a robbery on Christmas eve.  Yet I was overwhelmed by happiness that year.  

Christmas in Tanzania never feels perfect.  We can say "Jesus is the reason for the season," but we all know that we also look forward to the coziness, the beauty, the magic.  And that's hard to find out here.  We are away from the people we love most.  Baking cookies produces the same amount of sweat as running a marathon.  I have to keep all the cookies in the freezer and take them out just 5 minutes before we eat them, lest they turn into puddles before they are consumed.  No one puts up lights, shopping is limited, and my creativity is put to the test as I figure out ways to substitute ingredients in our favorite foods.  

Then I look at my children and can tell that none of that matters to them.  They like our spindly plastic tree, they don't mind that their gingerbread house has melted, and they will always associate Christmas with air conditioning, since it's the only time of the year we run it.  As I internally complain, one day Grace might say, "My favorite Christmas was the year I was nine."   I don't want to miss that magic.  
Photo credit:  Unknown..  This picture was recently circulated on Facebook by Liberia MK's.  In the distance, you can see our neighbor's house.  Our house was just a few hundred feet away.  

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