Monday, January 6, 2014

Putting the Christ back in Christmas

The month of December flew by for me. One minute we were starting preparations for Advent at church, and the next thing I knew Christmas had come and gone and we were entering 2014. Everyone knows that Christmas time is busy for one reason or another. For me, various programs in the school and church kept me quite occupied during the holiday season.

Here in Ecuador, Christmas has a different feel. At least our here in the country, kids don't get all excited about presents, or go sit on Santa's lap to give him their list. What they do get excited about is fundas de Navidad, Christmas bags, which are basically bags of cookies and candy that kids receive literally everywhere in the week before Christmas: in school, church, neighborhood, etc. Here in Romerillos cars from affluent areas of the city even come to give kids candy and toys. The kids are so used to this by now that they expect it: the Saturday before Christmas I walked outside to go to the store and saw about 15 kids lounging in the park. (This might seem normal but it is not. Usually kids here are helping their parents in the field or in their homes.) When I asked what they were doing, the children casually replied, "We're waiting for cars to come with fundas de Navidad." And their waiting paid off. By the end of the afternoon, they had compiled about seven bags of candy each.

Amidst this worldly understanding of Christmas, we at the church tried to put the focus on the birth of Jesus, God's only son sent as a gift to all humanity. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, I rounded up kids to participate in the drama of Jesus' birth. They learned lines and came faithfully each night to practice. We bought cloth to make costumes and gathered props (including a red-headed baby doll with a huge head for Jesus, which made me cringe at cultural insensitivity). I honestly don't know how it all came together so quickly. Thanks to the help of the pastor and several other young people in the church, the kids performed the drama the Sunday before Christmas.

As I watched these children of 9 through 12 years old recite their lines perfectly and act with such feeling, my heart warmed. This is the true meaning of Christmas, I thought. These kids may not hear much talk of Jesus from their parents, but in this moment they are part of something special. They are witnessing the extraordinary moment that we have chosen to remember on December 25: our Lord came to Earth in the form of a humble baby, to live with us and give his life for us. What a beautiful message. This is truly putting the Christ back in Christmas.