Christmas in Burundi is much different than Christmas celebrated in the United States. Trees remain firmly planted in the African soil, not cut and carried into homes to be decorated. Few people are decking the halls here – save a few westerners who brought some strands of colored lights to hang in their window. I have not heard Christmas carols on the radio or blasting from the sound systems of the local market. No one here is complaining about too many gifts to wrap, too many presents to still buy before the 24th or fighting the holiday traffic around the mall. People are planning to gather in homes for meals to celebrate together, and even at this late date people have room in their schedule to accept invitations and volunteer to bring their holiday cheer to the party.
It is odd to not have the tinsel, carols and gilded trees around. How odd, days before Christmas, to not be making a list and checking it twice – the grocery list, that is! Strange to not be planning the holiday feasts and setting aside hours to prepare them in the kitchen. This is just a different context for Christmas for our family this year, and it takes some getting used to.
But there is something about being free from the holiday hassles and expectations, from the myriad of distractions that I have become accustomed to amid this yuletide season. Christmas without the usual trimmings allows me to contemplate the coming of Christ, to consider the magnificence and mystery of Incarnation, God with us.
Then it dawned on me…
Christmas in Burundi is just the same as Christmas celebrated in the United States. We all will stop, for a moment, and remember the star that marked the sky and marked the coming of Good News to our broken world. We will listen to the Christmas Story and ponder, again, if there is room in the inn – room enough for God’s Miraculous Gift in our own stable of a heart. Shepherds watching, angels announcing, wise men seeking and a virgin birthing will all remind us of the amazing arrival of Jesus into the world He once created, entering the cosmos He so loves and coming close to those who bear His very image.
God is with us – all of us. He’s with us as we celebrate in Burundi, as we celebrate in the United States, as we celebrate in Cape Town, Nairobi, British Columbia, London or where ever you are on the globe this season. Christ approaches all afresh this Christmas, arriving as a vulnerable baby who, like every baby, alters our world every day thereafter.
NOTE: This was written while living in Burundi. This year we are in Arizona, but the message holds. Christmas is different, yet the same, where ever we celebrate.