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What It’s Like to Celebrate Christmas Around the World

Ever wondered how Christmas is celebrated all around the world? What are some traditions we all have in common, and how do different countries add their own twist to certain customs?

This Christmas, we asked four of our contributors from different countries to share about the special customs and traditions that are part of their Christmas celebrations.

 

China: The Best Time to Share the Gospel

Written By Kim Cheung

 

 

 

When I was growing up in a small city in China, very few people knew what Christmas is or celebrated it. But in recent years, thanks to the rise of commercialism, it’s becoming trendy to celebrate Christmas. However, it’s merely an opportunity for the merchants to promote their goods, and for young people to date and have fun with friends.

Rather than enjoying family time and having delicious food (which we do on Chinese New Year), we’d take Christmas as a time to do evangelism. We still love Christmas because it’s a time for us to celebrate the best news in the world—the birth of Christ.

For my church, Christmas is a great opportunity to share the gospel with non-Christians. We would usually host an event on Christmas Eve in the church and prepare some performances, including Christmas songs, dances, and live shows.

The whole event normally lasts for two hours and there will be a short sermon on who Jesus is or why we celebrate Christmas after the performances. Preparations for this event often took a month or even longer, but the focus of the whole event is for spreading the gospel.

After that, some of us would head downtown (where many people go) to hand out gospel tracts. Christmas is the best time to do this since people would be more likely to be more open to hearing about the gospel and accepting Jesus as their Savior. These activities take up most of the night, and we’d go home super late on Christmas Eve. So in some ways, Christmas might be the most exhausting time of the year.

This year, crackdowns on Chinese churches have made it harder to host Christmas activities. Therefore, we need to be super cautious when we invite people to our Christmas Eve services and share the gospel on the streets. But no matter how tough the circumstances may be, we should still seize the opportunity to share the Good News. After all, we are doing this to please the Lord and not men.

 

Nigeria: Sharing in the Spirit of Generosity

Written by Debra Ayis

 

Growing up in a Christian family in Nigeria introduced me to many traditions associated with Christmas. From as far back as memory can take me, I remember Christmas being my favorite holiday of the year—maybe it was the food, the community, or the fact that I knew I would get a brand new custom-designed dress to mark the celebration.

Christmas was a huge affair. Though separate regions in the country celebrated it differently, it was a time of warmth, family, and friends, and of course celebrating Christ our Savior.

In north Nigeria where I was born, there’s a rich mix of Christian and Muslim households. My favorite tradition out of many was the custom of exchanging food with our Muslim neighbors.

To me, this tradition embodied the Spirit of Christmas—the spirit of generosity. It was normal to find families cooking and preparing delicacies days before Christmas, generous offices would provide an unfortunate cow for slaughter to share amongst its staff members.

Each household would carry their haul of meat to be fried, cooked and integrated into different meals such as jollof rice, fried rice, white rice and stew, pepper soup, meatpies, pumpkin stew called miyan taushe (soup for masa or rice cakes in English). There was also an abundance of drinks and snacks such as the zobo drink made from sorrel or roselle flowers, chin-chin, cakes, biscuits, and buns.

Come Christmas morning, kids would pour out of their houses like soldiers on a mission, bearing baskets and trays stacked with food in their parents’ most expensive ceramic and china serveware.

They would make their way to each non-Christian neighbor’s house and offer them a dish. As expected, the neighbors would receive the meal and hand the kids candy, money, or a present as a Christmas gift. After delivering the food, the kids would head back home, change into their very best clothes in honor of Christmas and proceed to church for the morning service.

Like most families, my family would return home after church service to receive a deluge of visitors or we would head out to visit relatives and friends for the day. To a lot of Nigerians and to me personally, Christmas is a wonderful time to reconnect with family, friends, and neighbors. But more importantly, it is a time to reflect on the year gone by and a time to be thankful for the gift of Christ, life, and community.

 

Australia: Santa Visits Down Under in Board Shorts and Flip Flops

Written By Madeline Twooney 

 

Christmas time in Australia was a special time of the year for me, especially as it takes place in the summer. Now that l live in Germany, l appreciate having a white Christmas, but l still miss spending Christmas Day relaxing by the pool in my “cozzie” (swimsuit) or making “sandmen” at the beach.

Every year, my mum decorated our house and the garden with wreaths and Christmas trees, as well as shrubs called Christmas Bush and festive lights.

A beloved tradition that really put me in the Christmas spirit, was sitting in front of the telly with my family to watch a live broadcast of a carol concert called Carols by Candlelight. Even though I had yet to give my life to Jesus at that point, we also attended our own carol service in church on Christmas Eve. Australians love to sing Christmas carols!

I love Christmas Eve, as it brings back childhood memories of me believing that Santa, wearing boardshorts and flip-flops, would be delivering my Christmas presents in the night while l slept. I would lay out cookies for him, as well as carrots for his six white “boomers”, or kangaroos, who pulled his sled.

On Christmas Day, our family opened presents in the morning and then we would go to church for a Christmas Day service.

At lunch time, our family and friends would join us for a Christmas meal, which we eat outside in the garden.

My dad would fire up the grill and we would have a “barbie”, with juicy steaks, marinated king prawns, and chargrilled lobster. We would eat them with cold salads and my absolute favorite dessert—the pavlova—which is a meringue-based dessert topped with whipped cream and fresh seasonal fruit.

After lunch and a nap, it’s pool time! We chill, swim, or have pool fights on floaties until the sun goes down around 10pm; it’s the perfect end to a perfect Aussie Christmas!

Now that I have relocated to Germany and also received Christ as my Savior, Christmas is a different affair for me. This coming Christmas, my husband and l are hosting my best friends, who are visiting us from Berlin. This year has been particularly challenging for all of us due to health and other issues, and l look forward to taking this time to share with my friends the love and victory that Christ has given me.

 

America: A Bright and Festive Celebration for All

Written By Ross Boone

 

 

In the US, Christmas is celebrated as a national holiday—so it’s fun and heartwarming to see how the entire nation gets into the spirit of Christmas.

Shopping malls start pumping Christmas music into their stores pretty soon after Thanksgiving. And I love it. Christmas is a time for warm scarves, rosy smiles, being with family, snuggling by a fire, and of course all the presents—and it’s hard not to want to be infected by the spirit of it all.

When I was a child, one of my favorite traditions was when we’d get together with another family and drive around the neighborhoods looking for Christmas lights strung around houses and trees. Whenever we saw a house strung with Christmas lights we’d exclaim, “Ooh la la!”

Sometimes we’d see almost life-size nativity scenes outside of these houses or churches. These days, a lot more families are displaying blow-up Christmas balloons of Santa, reindeers, elves, presents, and even Disney characters in their front yards.

When I spot a block with a series of houses that are disproportionately brighter and more scintillating than the blocks around it, I assume dads are getting competitive!

This time of the year, a lot of people also watch Christmas movies. A couple of the ones my friends and I like are Home Alone (with MacCaulay Culkin) and Elf (with Will Farrell). I just watched The Polar Express with my nephews and nieces, which was based on a book we loved to read when I was their age.

I grew up in Denver, Colorado, which is in the middle of the US, but now I live on the south-eastern corner, in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve celebrated Christmas in non-denominational churches, Presbyterian churches, Episcopal churches, and Anglican churches. And they’re all lovely.

I’ve recently been introduced to a new tradition in my church. It is called “Lessons and Carols”. It is an hour-long presentation of readings and songs. The readings are from the Bible and tradition, and they tell the stories that start with Genesis and leading up to Jesus’ birth. These stories are interspersed with related Christmas carols, and it is such a beautiful way to remind us of the real, and most important reason for the season, and to get excited about celebrating Jesus’ birth.

 

As you celebrate Christmas this year, may your hearts be warmed by the knowledge that regardless of the way we celebrate our Christmases, Jesus was born so that we may all be part of one big family in Him.

Let’s Do Something Kind This Christmas

Written By Kim Cheung, China, Originally in Simplified Chinese

I was on my way home after an evening out with some friends. As I exited the mall, I plugged my earphones in to listen to some music while locating the nearest bus stop.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a little grandma begging on the steps. She looked small and frail, and was about 80 years old. She had a white porcelain bowl next to her, which held only two coins. Bags of plastic bottles, clearly collected off the streets, were neatly arranged around her.

Even though she caught my attention, I had no intention of stopping to interact with her. I had grown used to seeing beggars of every age group in my home town, and had heard too many stories of how some of these beggars would cheat people out of their money, that I’ve subconsciously grown to think that all of them are frauds—and this grandma was no different. Furthermore, my mind was preoccupied with my own needs and my own problems that needed solving.

But for some reason, something tugged in my heart and I felt moved to retrace my steps and talk to the grandma. At the same time, I battled with an internal struggle: if she’s simply lying, wouldn’t I be wasting my time? After all, it was almost nine in the evening . . .

In the end, I followed my heart’s urging and walked back to her. I didn’t have cash on me, so I walked up to her and asked, “Have you eaten yet?” This time, I saw her face more clearly. She was so very skinny. The wrinkles on her face seemed to be deeply etched, and her mouth looked entirely sunken in—maybe because she did not have many teeth.

She stared up at me in surprise for a moment, then replied, “Not yet.”

I then told her, “I do not have cash on me at the moment, but I can buy you something to eat. Would that be alright?”

She nodded, “Yes!”

I immediately walked into the mall beside us and bought a meat bun from the little restaurant just beside the entrance. I asked for an extra soft one, and handed it to the grandma. “Eat while it’s hot,” I told her.

She took it and looked somewhat surprised. Then hurriedly she said, “Oh, thank you. Thank you so much!”

“No problem. Go ahead and eat it,” I urged. Then I looked at the bags of plastic bottles, and wondered if she had anything to drink. “Do you have water?” I asked.

“Yes, yes,” she replied.

She was dressed in clothes that did not look very thick. Her tone of voice also reminded me of my own grandmother and those of her generation. I suddenly felt sad and wondered, would I ever see her again? How much time did she have left? Did she know the Lord?

I squatted beside her and asked, “Do you have a place to live?”

“Yes. I live with my daughter. But our situation is difficult. My daughter is sick, so I came out to beg for some money.”

“Do you have a way of getting home?” I asked, “Do you need any money for a ride?”

“I can take the bus,” she hurriedly replied, “I have a bus card.” She pulled her bus card out for me to see.

I really wanted to share the gospel with her right then, because I did not know if I would ever see her again. But I did not know how to begin. I continued asking her more questions, “Are you often here?”

“If there’s nothing else going on, I’m usually here,” she said. Then she asked where I lived and urged me to go home soon, apologizing for taking up my time. She also thanked me again for buying her dinner.

Sensing that our conversation was now over, I patted the grandma on her shoulder and told her, “It’s a small thing. God bless you. I’m a Christian. Jesus loves you!” After that, I said goodbye and left.

On the way home, I felt very conflicted. On the one hand, I was pained by her difficult situation, and I felt sad because I did not know if I would see her again and if she would come to know the Lord. On the other hand, I felt warm and moved that we were able to have that brief interaction.

Even though my interaction with the grandma was short, it helped me experience the truth that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). I could spend a few dollars or even a few hundred dollars buying myself a present or eating expensive food. But none of it could compare to little money and time I had just spent blessing someone else. When we give and see others helped and encouraged by what we give, that feeling is just amazing.

The more I began to think about my encounter with the grandma, the more I began to feel ashamed of my self-centeredness. How many people are there around us that we can offer such simple help to? But because we are so engrossed in ourselves or do not want to be inconvenienced, we blind ourselves to them.

As Christians, we clearly know the Lord’s teaching: that we should do good to others whenever the opportunity arises (Galatians 6:10). The Scriptures also say, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act” (Proverbs 3:27), and, “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16).

Furthermore, Jesus told us to be the salt and light in this world—we are to be witnesses for Him on earth, and spread the gospel to the corners of the earth. How often do we completely neglect the mission our Lord Jesus has given us, simply because we are completely preoccupied with our own problems?

When we can walk away from our self-centeredness, from our self-pity, and self-righteousness, we see how much the world needs us. The people begging on the sides of the street, who have no place to call home, are forgotten by society. They no longer have friends or family, and are even looked down on by passersby. What they need most at this time might not be one or two coins tossed to them, but real love and comfort that comes from fellow humans.

The greatest commandment God gave us is to love. The next time we see such people seeking help, perhaps we can extend some help and offer them some comfort?

This Christmas season, let us walk out of our own little worlds, and open our eyes to see the people around us who truly need help. Let us do something kind, and share with them our love and the good news of Christ.

Do We Die Alone?

Written by Kim Cheung, China, originally in Simplified Chinese

Granny lay breathless on her bed, making occasional groans and moans due to the pain and discomfort she was feeling. Her wrinkled face seemed to have aged further.

I sat by her bedside, never once taking my eyes off her. Summoning up all her strength, she opened her eyes, looking me straight in the eye.

“Are you hungry?” I asked. My question was met by silence; she didn’t have any strength left to speak.

Three weeks had passed since Granny first returned home from the hospital. Including her time spent at the hospital, it had been 17 days since she last ate any solid food. It never occurred to me that she would ever become so weak.

Aside from the fact she was 92 and had a history of heart disease, Granny’s health was always in tiptop condition. She didn’t require much care in her daily life; she ate and slept well every day, so much so that she seemed even healthier than those much younger than her. Furthermore, she always had a positive outlook on life (unlike her peers) and often said that she had to live well to keep up with the progress of our world today.

And yet at this very moment, she was a dying old person struggling in the final moments of her life. She looked like she was in intense pain. A whirlwind of emotions raged in my heart beneath my calm exterior, and I wondered: How could I best comfort her and bring her some relief in this situation?

The answer came quickly—there was nothing I could do but pray.

At this point, she gently stretched out her hand and held on to mine. Though her hand was frail, it felt exceptionally warm. I quietly prayed in my heart: Lord, You are with her. Please come and comfort her with your presence. Only You can bring true comfort . . . After a while, Granny seemed to have fallen asleep; there was a peaceful look on her face. I slowly removed my hand and prayed that the Lord would hold on to hers.

This was the very first time I witnessed someone struggling in her final moments. And yet, death is something all of us will eventually experience ourselves one day. Who would accompany us on this long and lonely road then?

I recalled a sharing from many years ago which stuck with me: All of us come to this earth alone and will have to leave in the same manner—alone. Though it sounded pessimistic, the reality of it hit home at that very moment. Our family and friends can only be with us in our final moments on earth, but it’s impossible for anyone to accompany us on the journey to the afterlife.

And this is what leaves many in despair. Death is already what many fear the most—to think that we have to face our deepest and darkest fear all alone!

Thankfully, I found hope in Christ. Because the Lord is always with us, there is never a single moment in time when we are alone. He goes with us through the mountains and valleys of our lives. David said in Psalm 23:4 (ESV), “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”

And beyond that, Jesus has also gained victory over the stronghold of death, as it says in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” So we no longer face ignorance and despair after we die, but rather life, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  This shows the extent of God’s love for us—He is always with us and He wants to bring us new life.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that we only come to a deeper understanding of the Lord’s presence when we are approaching life’s end. This is because we we can no longer depend on anyone or anything else. Only in our loneliest moment do we  discover that God alone is our surest, stable Rock in whom we can place our trust.

Only He can bring us true comfort and help in our darkest time. Only God will be with us forever—everything else is temporal and will fade away.

I thank the Lord that I’ll never be alone even as I finish my journey here on earth.

So for my remaining days here, I live with that perspective in mind, trusting in His faithfulness and leaning on Him as my dependable Rock.

Dearest Lord Jesus, please hold on tightly to my hand.

My Daily Struggle Against Negative Thoughts

Written By Kim Cheung, China, originally in Simplified Chinese

I used to feel like I was on an emotional roller-coaster ride—experiencing a huge range of ups and downs in just one day.

In a typical day, I would wake up to a bright and sunny morning that put me in a good mood. Feeling that life was great and all was rosy, I might even buy some flowers to brighten up my room. However, these feelings of happiness wouldn’t last. By afternoon, I would be feeling so down that life itself would seem meaningless and tiring. Ask me why this drastic change, and I wouldn’t have been able to give you an answer. It could be due to something small that frustrated me, or just a helpless feeling of moodiness that day.

I used to experience these feelings almost daily. They poured on me like a huge storm, leaving me helpless and overwhelmed. I would try to get rid of my thoughts by sleeping early or, if I was unable to do so, calling a friend for a chat. However, these conversations would inevitably end up with dispiriting talk and my friends sharing the same feelings of depression.

The worst thing about having such emotions was that they made it hard to concentrate fully on reading God’s Word. At times like these, I tended to give up reading the Bible entirely. At most, I would just ask for friends to keep me in prayer. This often left me crippled with guilt. “Don’t you find joy in the Lord? If so, why are you still so depressed?” I would chide myself. “Look at your pitiful self! You must be in this state because of your lack of spirituality!” These voices in my head would plunge me into an even deeper abyss of negative thoughts and feelings.

I knew this was the work of Satan attacking me at my weakest point. It was a cycle that would repeat itself and leave me like a weak lamb awaiting slaughter.

One day, I decided that I had enough. It was clear that God had told me to trust Him and rely on His strength. That’s’ when I realized that it is only when we put on the full armor of God, that we can take our stand against the devil’s evil schemes (Ephesians 6:10-11). I resolved not to be a victim of self-pity. Instead, I decided to take up the sword of the Spirit and fight back (Ephesians 6:17). Here are some practical things I did that I found helpful:

 

Achieving victory with prayer

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

This verse encouraged me and I decided to stop avoiding prayer. I wouldn’t hide from my pessimistic feelings or deny that they were there. Instead, I would admit that my lack of desire to pray was due to these feelings and ask the Holy Spirit to calm my heart. When these feelings continued to harass me, I called on Jesus’ name and commanded them to leave my heart.

I personally found such prayers very helpful. The Lord would comfort me and give me a sense of peace. I also came to realize that when I didn’t feel like praying, it was because I was ashamed; I shouldered all my burdens and found it difficult to bring them before the Lord. I learned that in times of distress, the only thing we desperately need is the Lord to change our hearts.

 

Meditating on the Word of God

After the Holy Spirit had taken those negative feelings away from me, I needed something to fill the cavity within. I desperately needed the Word of God to fill me.

That’s when I started to read Bible passages and take my time to think about what God wanted me to learn. I wanted His Word to be deeply etched in my heart.

In Philippians 4:13, Paul says that because of Christ, he can be joyful always: “I can do all things through him who gives me strength”. In Revelation 21:3-4, John reminds us about the new heaven and new earth that we can anticipate: “God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Reading these passages gave me great comfort. Through meditating on God’s Word, I came to understand it in a clearer way and was able to stand more firmly in its truths.

Spending Time with God Daily

Ultimately, I believe that daily fellowship with God is important and should not be neglected. It is crucial to set aside a fixed time every day to spend time reading the Bible.

I must admit that I’m not an early riser. Hence, the evenings are a great time for me to read the Word. Recently, I have been training myself to be diligent in prayer. I keep a small book to record my prayers to the Lord, as well as people I pray for individually during my personal time with the Lord.

Having a fixed time to spend with the Lord every day has helped me tremendously in my spiritual growth. My time with Him has taught me that it is only when we have an intimate and personal relationship with Him, that we can resist the strong temptation to wallow in our own negative thoughts and feelings.

If you see yourself in the “old” me, I would like to challenge you to have no fear, for Jesus has already overcome everything­­—even death—for us. Guard yourself from the devil’s sly tricks and put on the full armor of God to fight him. May we learn to rely only on Him and become strong in the Lord.