In the throes of present day Christmas festivities, I was so encouraged by this letter written by my grandmother in 1973. Take a few minutes, and journey with me to a different time and place, and together we will remember the Spirit of Christmas.
Christmas in Central America:
“To the North American living in Central America, it never really seems like Christmas due to the weather. By December the dry season has set in and the sun beams down with all force. If he hears “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” it inevitably causes a pang of homesickness. But if he is a Christian, this soon passes and he realizes that it is not the place that matters but the spirit of Christmas.
Last year there was no Christmas celebration in Managua, Nicaragua. The earthquake on the night of December 23, 1972, ended all thoughts of festivity. The lights and decorations on the principal streets had stayed up, or wherever they fell, for weeks. Even now among the ruins you can see the signs of Christmas decorations here and there. So far as we know there was no effort to provide toys and treats for the children. How could anyone think of toys when food and water were uppermost in everyone’s mind? But the Lord has been very merciful. Help has come from many parts of the world. Wounds are beginning to heal. May Christmas of ’73 find us with truly thankful hearts.
Twenty-five years ago little of the gaudy commercialism that characterizes Christmas in the USA was to be found here. The stores stocked a reasonable amount of toys, but Christmas, for the most part, was a religious holiday. The Catholic people attended the religious services and especially the midnight watch on Christmas Eve. Sky rockets of a homemade variety are still commonly used, but there was scarcely a Santa Claus to be seen, except in the capital. But the Central Americans have adopted many of our styles and customs, so many of them are swayed by the high powered advertising and end up with a debt to be paid off next year.
Nonetheless even now, especially in the villages, there is quite a bit of pageantry enacted in the street. Mary and Joseph with a flock of people following them knock on the door of many houses and are turned away. When they finally knock on the right door, they are received and a little celebration takes place in that house.
Most people in Central America teach their children that the Christ Child brings the gifts. They also celebrate January 6 as the day of the Magi, and some give presents on that occasion.
Christmas Eve is the big day. Everyone rushes like mad with all sorts of preparations; then everything stops abruptly. Many of them have celebrated too much already, so they hardly leave their homes on the 25th. It is necessary to have nacatamales, the type of tamales wrapped and cooked in banana leaves, for breakfast. These are also sent out as gifts for neighbors. It seems like the average family does not put on an extra big feed at the noon meal.
Now let us take a look at the Evangelical Christians. At the mention of Christmas their thoughts rush to the gaily decorated chapel and the Christmas program. Dramas, songs, and poems are rehearsed with much anticipation; but even so, there are long waits between the acts. Many of the children have fallen asleep before the program ends, and many have to be awakened to receive their treats.
For a little girl, Christmas is complete only if she has a new frilly dress, preferably of net over taffeta, with wide ruffled skirt and ribbon sash. We have observed little girls who evidently did not want to take off the new dress and “save it for Sunday” as some of us were taught to do. So since it is already a bit sticky with candy and maybe wrinkled from being slept in on Christmas eve, she just wears it to her heart’s content, and when you see her on Sunday the dress has suffered a good hard washing.
What is the favorite song? You have already guessed it. “Silent Night, Holy Night” is so well loved that folks scarcely need a songbook to sing all the stanzas. We also have Christian words to the tune of “Jingle Bells,” and it is very popular. On such an important occasion as the Christmas program, there are likely to be a variety of musical instruments, never lacking the accordion and the guitar. These may not be tuned together, and there may be difficulty in the beat, but we all agree that it is “muy alegre”—very happy. But these services are very important because the “gospel sympathizer” will come out when he ordinarily would not attend an evangelistic meeting. So there is always a sermon with a clear presentation of the Gospel, and not infrequently there are professions of faith. I am sure you would have enjoyed attending one of those meetings.”
I know I certainly would have enjoyed it. Wouldn’t you? Merry Christmas!