My Most Unforgettable Christmas

California Sagebrush

California Sagebrush


When I was seventeen, I lived with my family in Tanzania for a year. I’d never traveled much and really had no desire to live outside the US. But I didn’t feel particularly ready to launch out on my own, so I spent that last year “at home” in a country that gave no pretense to being a Christian nation.

It was an unusual feeling as the holiday season rolled around. No one was decorating for Christmas or playing carols. Not even Santa made an appearance.

We did our best to uphold our traditions. We conjured up a plant we called a Christmas tree–more like a large bit of sagebrush. We had no lights or ornaments or tinsel, so we imitated pioneers of old and made things to hang for decorations.

We started with strings of popcorn. This is not as homey and romantic as it first seemed. For one thing, the popcorn liked to break apart as much as it liked to have a string passed through it. For another, it was tedious work. But at last that poor, sad, drooping sorry excuse for a Christmas tree had something on it we could pretend to be decorations.

The best part truly was shopping. We had to travel the two hundred miles south from our town to the capital city of Dar es Salaam. We spent a day, maybe two prowling the stores to find gifts for each other–things that would be useful and memorable and beautiful. We wrapped our gifts in some paper I’m sure my mom found which came the closest to Christmas wrapping, then we piled them under the Sorriest Christmas Tree ever. I mean, ours made Charlie Brown’s tree look ritzy.

I don’t remember the details of that day. What I do remember is the love and laughter and joy we shared. The gifts weren’t about getting what we wanted. That was already out the window–we weren’t getting the latest or greatest or newest or most stylish. Rather, the gifts were an expression of the love and thoughtfulness each of us put into them. Like the tree, they were more on the sorry side–not ultimate treasures, not even diamonds in the rough. But getting stuff wasn’t the point. Exchanging expressions of love and being together was what we cared about.

I’m pretty sure we read the Christmas story–it was a bit of family tradition, and we probably opened up one present Christmas Eve. We may have awakened to the strains of Handel’s Messiah, too. There may have even been a church service that day. These things would be part of the norm, so I don’t remember them particularly.

But that tree was one of a kind, and I’ll never forget it. Nor will I forget living in a country that considered Christmas little more than another day of the year. For the first time, I got a glimpse of how a Christian heritage leaves an imprint on a culture.

Just like footprints, though, which wind or waves or time can erase, the impact of Christianity can fade unless one generation passes along to the next what Christianity is all about. Not hanging lights or singing carols at a certain time each year, mind you. In fact, the real impact of Christianity has much more to do with what happens before and after December 25 than it does on that particular day.

But it doesn’t hurt to create a memorable Christmas Day. Traditions are great, but what sets apart one Christmas from another is the unusual or different. Like a sad looking imitation of a Christmas tree. 😀

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Published in: on December 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 Comments

  1. I so remember your being there! I always thought it was very brave of all of you to go there for such a long stay. What a wonderful experience your father led you all to share! It was fun to hear about the Chrismas.

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    • Thanks for your comment, Emmy. It was a wonderful experience, though I resented everyone who told me it would be back in those days. 😆 I wasn’t particularly interested in a wonderful experience. As it turned out, it was life-changing. It revolutionized my worldview.

      That memorable Christmas was only one of the memorable experiences from that year.

      Becky

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