Celebrating Christmas away from familiar settings requires a great deal of planning and initiative. In N. America, all the trappings of Christmas are easily at hand. Most people have a variety of traditions they follow at Christmas time that include such things as family gatherings, a particular menu, gift giving and church services. When the Christmas season begins gearing up, people easily engage these various traditions which often make Christmas as meaningful as it is. Obviously these traditions involve work, organizing events, preparing food, and choosing gifts, but they are made easier by the fact that there is an already established tradition of what to do. Changes in one's life, for example getting married, having children, or moving, require one to reconsider what one does at Christmas, and with it, how one celebrates Christmas.
We experienced this when we were in Nigeria. For the first time we weren't able to celebrate Christmas with family and friends, with snow and Christmas trees, with turkey and mashed potatoes. It was hard. Even though we were surrounded by other Christians celebrating the season, they did it very differently. For example, on Christmas day, there was a tradition of slaughtering a cow on the volleyball court in front of our house and then dividing up the meat between those who had pitched in to buy the cow. Having vultures hovering around the house picking at the remains of a slaughtered cow had not been part of my Christmas experience growing up. But we did the best we could. We listened on the radio to the BBC's presentation of lessons and carols from King's College. We gathered together with other expats on the compound. But it wasn't the same, and it was hard.
Christmas in Jogja has not been as hard. In large part this is because we know that Christmas will not be the same. But it is also easier because the marketing of Christmas has begun here. We can buy artificial Christmas trees (we didn't), Christmas decorations (nope), and Christmas music (yup). The malls had Christmas decorations including Christmas trees, reindeer and candy canes. This marketing is interesting given that Indonesia is over 90% Muslim and a leading Muslim body issued a fatwa forbidding Muslims to say 'Merry Christmas'. The fatwa was issued in order to protect Muslims who might be led from saying the greeting to converting to Christianity. I have had colleagues wish me a 'Merry Christmas' so I am not sure how seriously Indonesian Muslims take this fatwa. Also, there was no fatwa against Christmas decorations so they apparently decided that Christmas trees and reindeer won't tempt Muslims to stray, though I have heard many Christian sermons suggesting that such trappings might cause Christians to stray. Not sure what this says about the piety of Christians in N. America compared to Muslims in Indonesia.
So, we (read Lori) decided we needed to be more intentional about celebrating Christmas this year. I had a hard time with this. I just can't get my head around celebrating Christmas when I am happy to get to my office and turn on the air conditioner. Perhaps I am superficial and don't get the real meaning of Christmas, but Christmas cannot be properly celebrated on a day that is too hot for a midday walk. And I am pretty sure it was cold in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. I'll bet there was even snow. If that was good for God and Jesus, it's good for me.
Anyways, we celebrated Christmas by opening gifts, listening to Christmas music, and doing a Sunday School lesson on Christmas. Our church didn't have any Christmas programs, which was a bit disappointing. I can't say this was my most meaningful Christmas, in large part because many of the traditions I associate with Christmas were not there. But it wasn't as hard as it was in Nigeria because we are getting a bit better at figuring out ways of doing Christmas in new places. I wonder though what the girls are learning about Christmas. Katie remembers Christmas in Canada so she realizes that it is different here and misses the traditions the most. We discussed the Christmas story but Christmas is also about so many other things that make the Christmas story more meaningful. How do we make Christmas meaningful for the girls?
I suppose what we will have to work on is how to create new family traditions for celebrating Christmas in a Muslim country that doesn't have any snow.