What comes to your mind? Snow? Colored lights? Gift cards?
When I think of Christmas, what comes to my mind are palm trees, beaches at twilight and dusty houses built of cinder blocks.
As a missionary kid in Ecuador, I spent many Christmas vacations with my family at the beach. We’d pile into our car, crank up Adventures in Odyssey on our CD player and drive for hours: descending from the heights of the Andes, passing banana plantations, stopping at derelict gas stations for fuel and ice cream, winding among low hills and finally arriving at the beach.
Towns and villages are scattered across the Ecuadorian coast. Most of them are small, dirty, unimpressive places. Ecuador is a poor country. In December, however, these little communities are brightened with fake Christmas trees and cheap colored lights.
What really sticks in my memory is the way people celebrated. My old man and I once passed a merry gathering of children in a little town on Christmas Eve. Many were barefooted; most were dirty; nearly everyone was smiling. It was a scene Charles Dickens would have been proud to write.
In Ecuador, Christmas is a time for celebration. It’s a time for fireworks, family get-togethers and three-liter bottles of Coca-Cola. (Yeah, we’ve got those in Ecuador. Be jealous, Americans.) It’s a time for celebration.
Of course, in many ways, Christmas in Ecuador isn’t much different from Christmas in the United States of America. There are the same silly commercials. The same packed shopping malls. The same frenzied media trying to squeeze as much money as they can out of the holiday season.
All the same, when I see the extravagant displays of colored lights around my current home in Indiana, I miss the cinderblock houses on the Ecuadorian coast with tacky tinsel in the windows. The dusty Nativity sets in the corners of living rooms. The cheap ornaments hung from two-foot Christmas trees. The flimsy plastic cups of Coca-Cola.
Most of all, I miss the joy.
Today’s post is about Christmas as a holiday. There is a much deeper meaning to Christmas, and I’ll write about it later this month. For now I want to share what I believe makes the holiday special. It’s not the gifts or the decorations or the music or the food. Even the Grinch understands (eventually) that Christmas means more than stuff.
Joy and celebration and being together with loved ones are what make the holiday special. The other stuff is nice, of course. The holiday stuff is like pretty wrapping paper and shiny ribbons covering the gifts under the Christmas tree.
In the end, though, who wants just the ribbons and wrapping paper without the presents?