Celebrating Christmas in a New Culture

Thursday, 15 December 2022 Celebrating Christmas in a New Culture The familiarity of Christmas is forgotten when you celebrate your first Christmas in a different cultural context and learn new traditions with new people. Below you can read two SIM mission workers reflecting on their experience of Christmas in a different culture. Regardless of where you are in the world, may you have a joy-filled Christmas as you celebrate the moment in history when God intervened and sent Jesus for us!
Thomas and his wife, Joannah, serve with SIM in Peru. The couple works alongside local churches and serves in ministry with youth and young adults. They both love mentoring and discipling young people and seeing the next generation be equipped to serve God wholeheartedly. They celebrated their first Christmas in Peru in 2021.  

Thomas shared: “Our first Christmas spent in Peru was confusing…  

Joannah and I are both from big families and are used to big family reunions. There are always lots of people, food, drinks and gifts all colliding at various places and times over Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. We were prepared in the lead-up to the Christmas season that of course, we wouldn’t be experiencing all that, but it was also much more different than we expected.  

Peru is a Catholic nation and so there is much religious festivity around Christmas time. However, many evangelicals in Peru seek to distance themselves from any celebration that is similar to the Catholic church or of the popular secular style such as Christmas trees and decorations. Therefore, Christmas is not a big celebration for many churches and Christians. There was no big church service with a focus on Christ’s birth or Christmas carols or community outreach. There were no nativity scenes in evangelical homes or churches. Apart from some small celebrations with other missionaries, there were no big celebrations in the circles we’re a part of at all, and to participate in anything Catholic is seen as almost bordering on heretical. So, for us, this made Christmas feel rather flat. And while we certainly didn’t miss much of the drama that organising Christmas can bring back in Australia – we kind of did miss it.  

There is something about collective community sentiment and celebration around a particular date and time that gets you buzzing. Having mentioned all that cultural and emotional confusion, it was still a great learning experience. We didn’t realise just how much we were attached to an Australian (Western) cultural tradition. So, now we are learning to look to those Peruvian traditions, dates and celebrations that bring the buzz and celebrate our faith. But don’t worry… we still love Christmas time! May your Christmas time be a blessed one however you spend it.” 
Bethany has served with SIM in West Africa since 2016. Bethany has a passion for sharing the Gospel with children and their families. As well as having responsibilities with the SIM field team, she also runs regular programs for children and is building neighbourhood relationships with young women and their families.  

Bethany shared: “My first few years in West Africa didn’t feel like Christmas at all – it is cool season, there’s no carols playing or Christmas trees on display. But now I’ve learnt to appreciate the new routines.  

A few days before Christmas, I get to cut up hundreds of onions as our small church fellowship prepares a Christmas meal for the 800 or so prisoners at the central prison. On Christmas Eve, we sing and pray at the Pastor’s house and eat little pieces of grilled beef marinated in mustard sauce. I stay overnight for an early start cooking again on Christmas Day for our church lunch – rice and sauce. My job is the onions again. My hands will smell for days but I love the early morning cool and the hot, milky, sugar laden local tea to drink as we prepare.  

This year the song in my heart comes from ‘O Holy Night’ – “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder dawns a bright and glorious morn.” May God bring new Christ-filled life to the weary people of my town.” 
PRAY: Pray for our mission workers around the world as they celebrate the coming of Jesus in different cultural contexts. Pray that God would enable and strengthen them in their ministry activities in 2023. 
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