I admit it’s a bit difficult to sit here in sunny, 70-degree Kenya, with the birds chirping their little tunes and the trees in full leaf, and conjure up inspiring reflections of Christmas. At least, it’s difficult for this Colorado girl. Even after 5 years of living in Kenya, I still find it challenging to really embrace the Christmas season with the same zeal I always could Stateside. Colorado winter played such an integral part in my fondest Christmas memories. Those winters shaped our family preparations and traditions, our celebrations with friends, and the special events we attended. Those winters created the backdrop and framework of how I see Christmas. Without that backdrop here in Kenya, I must ask myself, “What is Christmas to become?”
I have the fondest Christmastime memories of experiencing the celebratory splendor of Handel’s Messiah, putting on my little tartan plaid dress with brand new tights and shiny black shoes, and donning my winter coat, mittens and woolen hat as we went out the door. Of the coziness in getting all bundled up, hot cocoa in hand, and piling into our family car to drive through neighborhoods “oohing” and “aahing” at all the twinkling, glittering Christmas lights. Of making snow angels in the freshly fallen powder out back and pretending we were Angels on High, while Mom made one of her delicious, piping-hot soups and famous biscuits in anticipation of our icy return.
Then there was the hushed joy of finding our center again after the frenzy of festivities and celebrations and activities, in sitting by the twinkling Christmas tree on Christmas Eve night in our pajamas and slippers reading Jolly Old Santa Claus marveling at the luminous pictures, followed by the centuries old Nativity story that binds all our stories together. There was the holy hush of hearing the cherished words, “For unto you is born this day…a Savior who is Christ the Lord…” while watching the crisp, cold moon ascend, and praying fervently for a white Christmas (and to be honest, a pile of prettily wrapped presents under the tree) to greet us the next morning.
That backdrop of Colorado’s winter wonderland had interlaced itself so naturally and deeply with my Christmas traditions growing up that I was at a bit of a loss when creating our first Christmas in Kenya for my own little ones. It no longer made sense to pull out the snowmen and snowflake décor in a tropical climate, or to sing any of the well-loved “snowy” Christmas songs. Bundling up and hot chocolate? Snow angels? It no longer made any sense here.
And seeing Handel’s Messiah or driving around to look at dazzling lights was now out of the question. No opportunity here. When most people can barely afford to have it for their everyday needs, why would anyone waste precious (and unreliable) electricity on something so unnecessary? And to top it off, and oh-so-contrary to our American culture, in Kenya it’s been my experience that the emphasis at Christmas time is on family coming together instead of gifts and therefore, they play a very small role in Christmas.
So, without the snowy scenery, or the customary festive activities to engage in, or the wonderment of shimmery gifts piled high under the tree, what was Christmas to become? With so many of my previous associations now completely out of context, how would Christmas now show itself against this new backdrop; how would it reveal its deeper self within this new context?
In the wake of this, I found myself asking, “How do you find that same sense of coziness in a place where you don’t need to cozy up from the weather?” The answer? You don’t. How do you find that same sense of hearth and home when everything still feels so very unlike the home you’ve known, the place of your memories? You don’t. How do you draw everyone back together the same way to re-center and reconnect when you are the one who’s gone? You don’t.
So, what do you do? You dig deeper.
You dig deep down and stir up the embers of what has kept that warmth and energy of Christmas alive all those years. Then you use those embers to kindle a new fire. And suddenly, Christmas becomes about a mission, a journey of taking that coziness of hearth and home, of seeing wonder, of togetherness, and embodying it to those who cross our path through generosity, unconditional love, and belonging. It becomes about intentionally centering on the story of our Savior’s birth, of intentionally bringing all kinds of people together and offering love, right where God has us. Suddenly,
Christmas transcends physical location. It transcends surroundings or circumstances. It becomes something that settles itself deep within, and becomes about Who you carry with you and how you will draw others to His hearth, to His wonder, to His love.
To some, my youthful associations may seem simplistic when weighed against the profound depth of Christmas’s true meaning. Yet through my formative years, the tangibility of winter signified to me that, when all the world is still, God seamlessly and invisibly does His deepest work. While all the earth lay dying, tethered to the unyielding laws of nature, He ushered in the greatest source of Life – the seed of David destined to sprout new Life within all who would choose to believe. Divinely established and interwoven within the barrenness of the world’s winter, Hope sprang up – the smallest sprout of something unexpected and unfathomable that would alter the world from that moment forward. And as the world has continued to wrestle with the weight of this Offering, in those of us who believe, we find that same Seed planted within, ushering in new Life still.
As we daily endeavor to live out the promise of this Life, we find Christmas not out of context as we celebrate it around the world. We find instead that within the essence of the hearth and home we cultivate, Christmas is made manifest over and over again.
The image of the Kenyan Nativity is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith.
A beloved gift from Pahtyana Moore and family, this handmade nativity holds an honoured place in the home of Peter & Lancia Smith.