Christians abroad and Muslims at home helped me find the holy day in the holiday.
by D.L. Mayfield
Holidays are a blend of culture, tradition, marketing, and consumerism—with sometimes a little religion thrown in. At least that’s how it feels in the US. How and what we celebrate has a lot to say about our own culture. Christmas, in particular, is a perfect example of the syncretism of modern-day religious celebrations: We can blame Hallmark all we want, but most of us have willingly engaged in the commercialization of a day that’s supposed to revolve around prayer, gratitude, and religious devotion.
Two unique Christmases from my childhood and young adult years have given me perspective on what it means to practice the holiday outside of this mainstream context.
When I was eight, my family was in central Mexico on a two-month-long trip. My mother bought my siblings and I each a bandana and used it to wrap up a few little toys and candies. We sang Christmas songs by candlelight and ate enchiladas. Even as a child, I knew these rituals differed from those of years past, when we had snow outside, holidays cartoons on the TV, and an Easy Bake Oven underneath a sparkling Christmas tree. Nonetheless, I was still happy. I relished the differences, and the night felt holy—connected more closely to the Story of a Savior who entered the realities of our world.
The second time I celebrated Christmas in another country, I was in India, where Christians are a religious minority. There were no decorations in the stores, no holiday tunes being piped in everywhere. It was hot and dusty and didn’t feel like Christmas at all. I was a recent high school graduate, and I cried when my parents called me on the phone.
On Christmas Eve, the group I was with attended the one Catholic church in a city of millions and listened to a few hymns sung in English, including “O Holy Night.” I felt a strange mixture of the familiar and the unknown. On the way back from the service, we drove past low-lying houses in poorer neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city. Our guide and interpreter pointed out the lit paper stars that hovered above the corrugated-roofed houses and huts. “The people who put up the stars are Christians,” our guide told us. “They are signifying the Presence of Christ in their homes.”
Those simple, star-lit decorations burned in my heart, both for what they did signify as well as what they didn’t. They cleared away the cultural clutter from years of commercials and customs designed around food, gifts, and a manufactured, Norman-Rockwell-esque vision of Christmas. Although I didn’t realize it until then, that contrived vision had separated me and others from the realities of a very hard world—and what it means to truly live like Jesus is our Lord and Savior.
SOURCE: Christianity Today