Christmas in South America! That’s something I would have never thought I’d say. But, here we are. We are celebrating Christmas in Bolivia.
It is surreal to be here at this time of year. There are signs of Christmas all around us, but yet to me it doesn’t feel like Christmas. I was trying to think this through and I reasoned that there has to be more to it than just the weather. But the weather plays a HUGE factor for me. For 36 years, I packaged my Christmas memories around cool weather and tied it with a frosty bow. and all that goes with it. Snow, hot chocolate, mitts and scarves, toasty fires, rosy cheeks and frozen noses. So, it’s hard to disassociate Christmas from chilly weather. However, I can’t escape the reality that I’m wearing shorts, hanging laundry outside and smelling fresh-cut grass! Crazy stuff. Christmas is here whether or not the weather agrees with me.
I have been told to face the fact that Christmas will be different, aside from the weather, and to make that transition easier, I should not expect to replicate some of the traditions that I’m used to. Wise thoughts, but it’s hard to invent new traditions. So, I asked God to help me be creative. Here’s some of the ideas He gave me….
Although I missed hanging my collection of decorations and reuniting myself with treasured ornaments, we made paper ones instead. We have paper chains and snowflakes that adorn our walls and mantle.
Finding a Christmas tree was tough and just when it looked like I was going to have to invent one, a friend offered us their 4 foot office tree. We took the liberty of not having Holly (our dog) with us this year to indulge our tree with popcorn and marshmallow garland. Although, thanks to our candy girl, we are now missing a string or two 😛
I love Christmas music and no Christmas is complete without the sounds of the seasons. So we’ve cranked the carols and have had a few dance parties…Vis style! Thanks to our Spanish speaking friends we’ve even added some Spanish songs to our repertoire. Feliz Navidad by Boney M has a totally new vibe for me now! It is interesting to note that our all time favourite songs don’t always translate to the words we know. For example…Jingle Bells. There’s no “dashing through the snow” in Bolivia, so they sing, “Christmas, Christmas. Today is Christmas. It is a day of joy and happiness,” to the tune of Jingle Bells.
Obviously family is hard to come by here, so I have felt the pain of distance over the holidays and I stop myself from listening to songs like, “I’ll be home for Christmas.” This is where it gets tough because for me, it’s about celebrating with family, friends and church family too. I miss all those get togethers. Just being together has a new meaning for me this year. It makes me wish I’d appreciated those times more. That being said, I have not been alone. Our missionary friends and CCS staff have welcomed our family into their gatherings and celebrations to which I am grateful for. I guess they’ve all been there before 😉 We’ve had Secret Santa and white elephant gift exchanges too. One with a fun new twist that I’ll be bringing back to Canada with me 🙂
Around this time of year. I miss the Walmart and mall shopping experience. It’s been a challenge to find gifts not knowing the city very well. Shopping in the market is always a case of “you never know what you’re gonna find.” North American toys are at the market, but they are usually last years surplus or are slightly damaged or missing parts. So I’ve learned to ask, ” Is this set complete?” and I’ve learned to overlook the crumpled packaging.
My grocery list changes at Christmas time to include those special treats and recipes, but here at times it’s frustrating because you can’t always get what you need. Friends at home, don’t take chocolate chips for granted! They are hard to find here….but I found some, so lucky for us we will indulge and savor every morsel.
I sure don’t miss the commercial side of Christmas. Everyone here waits until this last week to buy a few gifts, but it doesn’t seem overboard. The majority of Bolivians focus on being together with family on the 24th as they center around their special nativity sets and traditional foods. It is refreshing to me to see this. A very significant moment came from Hannah when she said that she didn’t know what she wanted for presents because she hadn’t seen any advertisements or weekly flyers.
Some traditions we are able to keep, yet again they are naturally a little different. We plan on visiting certain town squares and plazas to ooh and ahh over the light displays, only this year’s twist is we’ll be eating ice cream cones as we stroll along the parks.
We are looking forward to Christmas Eve. This year we will be sharing the message of Christmas with the residents of Sumunpaya. Our family has volunteered at the community center all week as they host a Christmas kid’s program. Some 60 plus kids have come to play, make crafts, sing and hear the Christmas story. These kids form the foundation for the service on Christmas Eve. They will invite their parents and relatives to come to the center. Tyler and Mary are reading scripture in Spanish, and we are all singing and playing a Christmas carol in English. It has been a real blessing to be a part of this ministry. Most of these kids come from very sad situations and needy homes. Please pray alongside us for many hearts to receive Christ’s love during this time.
We will also continue in the Christmas Spirit by fulfilling our family motto to “love others” by donating supplies to a local orphanage as well as deliver a food hamper that we put together for 2 very needy families in our area. That’s what matters. No matter where you live, you can share the joys of Christmas with people around you. You can find ways to lend a hand and share Christ’s love. That’s why He came after all, to love us and help us find our way to new life in Him.
Merry Christmas everyone. May you know God’s gift of love and peace this season!!
(Enjoy some of the pictures from this week at the Sumunpaya Center)