A Cross-Cultural Christmas

Editor’s Note: One year ago we asked missionaries what Christmas looks like in their country of service—here are a few of their answers.

Jeremy and Adrienne Penner, EMC Workers with Multiply in Thailand

It’s the busiest ministry time of the year! Myanmar migrant workers rarely have time off—so when it comes there’s a big outreach focus. No one here knows anything about why Christmas is a thing, but everyone likes a party! Each church holds Christmas party outreach events all over their area, sharing about Jesus coming to save us, singing songs, performing dramas, and eating delicious Burmese food and Christmas cookies. In 2020, we and our team planned 19 outreaches! Between baking, preparing, and running events it’s a busy month; and afterwards, there isn’t time to sit around because January is when follow-up starts!

Dallas and Tara Wiebe, EMC Missionaries in Mexico

Christmas in Guadalajara is centred around the celebration of Jesus’ birth. In a typical year there are posadas throughout the whole month of December. These are Christmas parties that you attend with every social group you’re a part of, such as a party with every class your kid is part of at school, every sports team they’re on, every group of friends you have, as well as a church posada. It makes for a very busy month! Part of the tradition is also to pedir posada, or to ask for lodging.

This involves those at the party splitting up into two groups. Everyone holds a candle while taking turns singing parts of a song where Joseph and Mary are looking for lodging. It concludes with the two groups joining together and continuing on with the party. As a church we also focus on inviting friends to our posada and making it a time of celebrating Jesus’ birth together. The real meaning of the celebration often gets lost in the midst of all the parties and this is a way to put the focus on Christ once again.

Most of these parties happen before the 24th, as Christmas Eve is the day to gather with your family. A big meal is served late in the evening, usually close to midnight. In some areas of Mexico, presents are opened on the 24th; children are told they were delivered by niñito Dios (little God). In other areas of Mexico, presents are opened on January 6th, Three Kings Day.

Travis and Rosey Zacharias, EMC Missionaries in Paraguay

In Paraguay, Christmas is a very special occasion. Presents don’t arrive until January 6th when the Wise Men bring them, but on December 24th, there is anticipation as the 25th draws near. Fireworks start in the afternoon as excited children, and even some adults, light some of the smaller ones; you hear one explode every few minutes.

Catholics may go to mass at eight in the evening. At around nine or ten in the evening, the smell of the charcoal lit to barbecue supper mixes with the smell of sulfur from the firecrackers. Thirty minutes later the smell of a cooking beef roast or rack of beef ribs adds to the aroma. Over the next hour-and-a-half to two hours, the smell intensifies as the meat cooks. As midnight approaches, the firecrackers increase in intensity, with one exploding every five to 10 seconds. All of these smells and sounds build the anticipation, the excitement, the hope that the 25th will soon arrive. At midnight the firecrackers reach their peak with hundreds exploding every second, the delicious meal is eaten and soon it is quiet.

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