Wednesday, December 24, 2008
I sit in New England with the snow whirling around the house and Christmas carols playing in the background. And Congo seems so far away.
I have returned to the US to spend the holidays with my parents here in CT. And I am thankful to be able to do that. Especially since shortly after I arrived my grandfather passed away. It is meaningful to be here with my parents during this time. And I have always been less than enthusiastic about Christmas spent in 80 degree whether. It is just not the same. And although fake Christmas trees and cheap christmas decorations are on display in all the shops in Goma, and toy sellers display their wares hopefully on the streets. sometimes it feels like all the wrong parts of this holiday have become the most popular in Congo. But to be honest, at least in Congo Christmas is largely a holiday for children and church. For adults, the important holiday is New Year. Feasts are held on New Years, rather than Christmas, and New Years is the holiday when all the adutlts buy new clothing and even exchange gifts.
Still, I like Christmas. Inspite of the over-commercialization and the hustle of buying presents. I haven't been here on Christmas for the past few years. And I must say that I was shocked yesterday, at the jam-packed parking lots in one store after another. This in an economy that is suffering?
But what I like about Christmas is the candle lit churches and the music sung by choirs. The times when snow seems to blanket the world and for a moment everything is quiet. I like it when all the stores finally close and people go home. And I like tradition, whatever it might be, for the chance it gives us to count back over the years and remember them. To remember that we are a people who gain strength not only from looking toward the future, but from remembering the past.
So christmas strikes me as a little strange this year. Because less than a month ago I was in Congo. My husband is there now, many of my friends are there. And yet I can barely imagine the 80 degree weather and the sounds of the streets. They seem like perhaps a life I only dreamed. And I am aware of how many of you must feel, our friends and family here in the US, when we are so far away, in a world that is hard to imagine.
In my parents house we have a real Christmas tree this year, and next to it a manger scene. And to be honest, the manger scene looks a bit out of place. There is no glittery snow and no flashing lights. The little people aren't even bundled up in winter clothing. The manger scene is truly a world so far away. A people I can hardly imagine. Perhaps a world much more like Congo, than like the one here, in the US. And I guess that is why I like Christmas. Not for all the Christmas lists and gifts, and feasts; but for the rare moment when all of that stops. And we are asked to remember a different world. A world so unlike our own.