Today we welcome Sarah Klingler, our Director of Communications and Education, as our guest blogger.
Some of my most cherished Christmas memories are from the years I spent as a missionary kid in the Philippines. Our family of six moved there when I was a seventh grader, not the easiest time of life for a major transition. When I look back in hindsight, although a painful move initially, this was one of the key components in shaping who I am today, and I am grateful.
Christmas in the Philippines begins early, in fact as soon as the “ber” months arrive (September, October…), it’s time to begin the celebrations, and all the decorations and all the music you hear are all things Christmas for four straight months. Yet, somehow, it doesn’t get old. Filipinos are some of the most joyful people I know. Many of them struggle financially, and large numbers live in extreme poverty; however, you would be hard-pressed to find a more generous, welcoming group of people. Christmas is a time for parties, time spent with family and friends, just being together and enjoying food and games and other festivities.
The climate of this island-nation in Southeast Asia isn’t right for growing traditional Christmas trees, and when we lived there in the late eighties/early nineties, even nice fake trees were hard to find and were expensive. One particularly beautiful decoration they use is a parol, which is a star-shaped lantern made out of bamboo or paper or other materials. Even now I decorate my own tree with smaller parols and have a larger parol hanging in the living room. It’s a great reminder to me of the importance of the joy of the season, of seeking Jesus as the magi did when they followed the star, and also of focusing not on things but on being with people, as the Filipinos love to do.
One of the things we missed the most about celebrating Christmas so far from home was the snow and cold. Seems hard to believe anyone would miss those things, right? It somehow doesn’t feel quite the same when you’re “decking the halls” in shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops and with temperatures in the 80’s. So, to recreate that Northeast Ohio feeling, we would turn the air conditioning up so the house felt frigid. We’d huddle under blankets, drink hot cocoa, and watch White Christmas. It made us feel a little less homesick and was a special time of being together as a family.
I remember one year my Dad tried to make a homemade Christmas tree. I was tired of our little crocheted tree, which sat on the table, and seemed a “lame” substitute for a tree, at least in my teenage eyes. It’s important to note my Dad is not a carpenter nor an artist and isn’t necessarily very crafty. He is simply a kind and loving Father who worked hard to make things special for us, even when times were tight. Dad assembled pieces of wood, which he literally colored green, and formed into the shape of a tree. Then we decorated it, and we stood it up against the wall in our sala (living room). It was beautiful! I have to say, it probably looked quite similar to one of the modern trees I saw recently displayed at the Akron Children’s Hospital Tree Festival. This is a memory that stands out in my mind, again, not because it involved something expensive or significant by the world’s standards of Christmas, but because it’s a shared memory I have with my family. It also reminds me of the love of my Dad for his children.
This has been a wonderful, nostalgic stroll down memory lane, but I hope it will be more than just that. There’s also a lesson here, which runs deeper than the stories themselves. God has been reminding me of how he, too, is a Father who is for his children. In fact, he isn’t just a God who is distant, he is a God who became man so he could dwell with us, have relationship with us. Jesus was born into a family, lived alongside a group of friends, and got to know people and their stories. He felt hurt, sadness, disappointment, betrayal, and was ultimately put to death in order that we can have the opportunity to be in right relationship with God. Christmas is about relationship – our relationship with God, which should directly impact our relationship with others.
The commercialization and busy-ness of the season has many dreading the holiday season and wishing for just one quiet moment on the calendar. May I encourage you today to see Christmas as an opportunity to spend time with those you love and hold most dear? The presents and tinsel and cookies and all the “things” will quickly fade away. I’d have to dig deep into the recesses of my mind to recall any of the gifts I received growing up, yet I absolutely love this time of the year because of the wonderful memories, like the ones I’ve shared.
It’s the time spent together that will be most precious and will make memories that will last. Create traditions that can be passed on for generations to come; find quiet time to spend reflecting on the gift of Jesus’ love; open up your home and heart to be with someone who perhaps others might have overlooked; focus on the simple things because those are often the most profound; and remember the true joy of this beautiful season. God chose to be with us, and that is indeed the heart of this Christmas season. He desires to be with us. What a reason to celebrate! Immanuel!