My, my time does fly! Here we are with another holiday season upon us where we enjoy giving thanks for the gift God has given us in Jesus Christ. The core of 13 missionaries supported by our EFC Oroville family is hard at work sharing the good news of the gospel in the U.S., Malaysia, Spain, Thailand, India, the Congo and the Philippines. Since we are pretty familiar with how Christians in the U.S. celebrate, let’s take a look at how Christmas time is done in a few of those places around the world.
This is a majority Catholic country, 80-90%, and Protestants make up about 6% of the population, which makes Christmas one of the nation’s most celebrated holidays. There are at least eight common languages one can use to wish a Merry/Happy Christmas, including Tagalog (“Maligayang Pasko”) or Warey Warey (“Maupay Nga Pasko”). There is even a “reindeer” farm on the slopes of Mt. Isarog on one of the nation’s islands. Stay up all night during Noche Buena attending church service and feasting with your family!
Celebrating the entire story of God’s plan is the focus in this country. Churches often host a nativity play and musical worship that starts on Christmas Eve and can last until dawn. When the play starts with the creation story, you can see why it might take so long. The worship will pick right back up again with Christmas Day services later that morning. No presents for each other, but families might have a nicer than normal lunch or dinner. Say “Mbotama Malamu” in Lingala to wish them a Merry/Happy Christmas.
We have heard “Feliz Navidad” before, but have you heard “Bon Nadal”? That’s Happy Christmas in Catalan, one of the languages spoken in the Catalonia region of northern Spain. Here, too, Nochebuena is celebrated with a Christmas Eve feast and a midnight church service. There are many regional-based traditions in Spain and a larger focus on Epiphany on January 6th. It celebrates when the three wisemen (known as Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar) brought gifts to worship the baby Jesus. Gifts are often left out for them on Epiphany Eve, sometimes including water for their camels. Children will receive the majority of their seasonal presents the next morning under the Christmas tree that remains up for decoration.
While it is fun to see how Christmas is celebrated around the world, it is a good reminder as we pray to include our bothers and sisters on the mission field in those countries. Culture outside of the Church can so easily focus on the non-essentials of the Nativity or secular influences of the season. Let’s pray that this time gives them an opportunity to point others to the One whose arrival so long ago remains our reason for hope today and tomorrow.
Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas from your Missions Team!
(Resources: whychristmas.com; www.compassion.org)