This article was written by Ann Hibbard. Ann is a missionary kid, pastor’s wife, second generation homeschooler, editor, and mom of three. She loves encouraging and equipping others, especially women in the ministry and homeschooling communities.
As Arkansans, we are surrounded by visual reminders of Christmas, often before Halloween candy has even disappeared from the grocery stores. But, in some countries Christmas celebrations are nowhere to be seen.
This is true of many countries in East Asia, including Avery and Presh McChoen’s* adopted country. Christmas is viewed as a Western holiday and is therefore not a part of the local national culture. So, when the McChoen family celebrates Christmas while overseas, they do so without much fanfare or community.
Of course, this does not mean the McChoens are unable to share their celebration with guests. Their adopted culture deeply grasps the joy of celebrating in community, as can be seen in their own elaborate Spring Festival honoring the Lunar New Year. As families gather for Spring Festival celebrations, the McChoens are often reminded of their own family celebrations in the United States. Every year, their neighbors prepare to wrap up the Spring Festival and welcome the New Year by cleaning their homes in anticipation of hosting large gatherings. When the celebration time arrives, everyone works together to prepare a traditional dish of dumplings, which they then eat together. After the meal, family members exchange gifts. These gifts are almost always in the form of money, and children traditionally receive their monetary gifts wrapped in red envelopes. At midnight on Lunar New Year, an impressive fireworks display lights up the sky. Celebrants, bound by their many superstitious beliefs, hope that by lighting up the midnight sky as brightly as possible, they will be able to ward off evil spirits in the coming year, bringing them blessings instead of curses.
Although the traditional December Christmas celebrations do not coincide with the Spring Festival, the McChoens have learned that they can use the traditions and celebrations as a platform for explaining their own “western” Christmas traditions. They explain the story of Jesus wrapped in the simple gesture of sharing their traditions with neighbors in their host country.
In order to accomplish this, Avery, Presh, and their children have learned the importance of establishing their own solid Christmas traditions, even as they celebrate them without the traditional family gatherings and community involvement they are accustomed to in the U.S. One of their favorite traditions revolves around a traditional Advent calendar and reading. Each night, the family recites the Advent script and the children add new elements of the Christmas story to their felt Advent calendar. As guests visit their home during the Advent season, they are welcomed to join in for the reading, recitations, and story. In this way, the McChoens and their children share, not only their family traditions, but also the story of Jesus with their lost neighbors.
As you celebrate this Christmas season, pray for families like the McChoens who often celebrate very differently while living in cultures that do not recognize Christ or Christmas. Pray that they will have wisdom as they seek to draw on the traditions around them and use those as a platform for sharing the love of Jesus with their lost neighbors.
*Names changed for security purposes.