Christmas Memories from Around the World
By Diane Fietje
on Monday, December 13, 2021
Christmas is a special time of the year because we celebrate the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ! There are so many memories and traditions tied to this celebration adding to the wonder and anticipation of Jesus’ birth and His coming again.
Our staff at MORE have lived all over the world, and they have shared some of their favourite Christmas memories. We hope you will enjoy reading them!
At the school I went to in Nepal we used to put on a Christmas play every year. We’d practice for weeks, and I loved learning so many new songs each time!
One special Christmas my parents gave my sisters and I a puppy! We’d been begging for one for so long. Our family was finally feeling settled in Nepal after an intense year of travelling and transition. So, it was time! We named her Angel and she was our dog for 16 years. We were even able to bring her back to Canada with us.
Every year my mom gets a children’s picture book about Christmas and reads it to us on Christmas Day. Even though we are all grown up now, it’s still a family tradition. I never get tired of hearing the Christmas story!
As a 5-year-old MK in northern India, I remember peeking into one of the 45-gallon barrels that Dad and Mom used to pack all our things in and seeing a treasure trove of gifts for Christmas. I had never dreamed of such beautiful gifts.
Reminiscing years later, it spoke to me about how they had planned years in advance for special events and reminded me of their sacrificial lifestyle in caring for us kids. Mom and Dad took 2 furloughs in 22 years. The first furlough was after 8 years on the field, and the second was after 6 years so that was a lot of foresight and planning!
One Christmas tradition my family had in Senegal was to eat watermelon during the holiday season. It turns out that in Senegal pastèque (French for watermelon) is in season in December! Because it’s red and green, it makes a great Christmas food!
Mark & Ruth
This Christmas will be, I believe, the 60th straight year that I will watch the 1951 version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ with Alastair Sim as Scrooge. Ruth has joined me for the last 45.
We received a little paper manger diorama one Christmas in the first years of our marriage. It has been lovingly placed in the centre of our Christmas tree each year in a bald spot among the branches - we MAKE one if the tree is unfortunately too regular - and our kids (now grown adults) still look for it. Christ must be at the centre.
My favourite Christmas memory is putting up our wooden Nativity set. We would also bring a few favourite Christmas ornaments with us no matter where we lived and put those around our apartment to remind us of "home" and it helped to have continuity of tradition. If possible, we would buy an artificial Christmas tree and decorate it.
We were overseas and Dec 25th was not celebrated, but New Year's on January 1 was certainly celebrated. One of the first Christmases we didn't have a lot of decorations, so we traced the handprint of our son, who was young at the time, multiple times and colored them and cut them out and made a make shift tree on cardboard, using his handprints as the needles. We made other home-made decorations and still have a few of them. It was fun to use creative ways to come up with simple and inexpensive things to brighten up our place. We felt a long way away from family and needed to be creative to assist us in our putting down roots in our new country.
My favourite memory is of Christkindle Markt in most Austrian towns during Advent, and the electric advent wreaths strung in some street intersections.
Virginia (South America)
Navidad is the MOST IMPORTANT yearly event in South America. It is not Santa Claus who is believed to bring the presents but "El Niñito Dios" (Baby Jesus). Everybody leaves a pair of shoes by the windowsill or in a corridor in the house and, after midnight, you are sure to find one (or two, max) presents on top of every pair of shoes!
We don't have to leave cookies or milk for Baby Jesus, but we do have to go to the midnight mass to church for the "La Misa de Gallo" ("Rooster's Mass"/"Shepherds' Mass;") in which we are reminded of the REAL gift of Christmas!
At midnight, the church sounds its bells in celebratory mode while townsfolk set off their biggest and best fireworks and we go home to the hosting family, among bells and sparkling skies to celebrate Baby Jesus being born, family and love.
We start with a toast of cider and the kids are included, although most don't really like it, and we eat different kinds of asado meats (barbecue), salads and deserts. The most important desert is the Pan Dulce (Panettone).
Since this is THE MOST important gathering in our culture, the number of family members gathering at one place, travelling from all corners of the world, can be from 20 to 50 or more! While adults get to catch up about the family events and news, after we all opened our presents, we eat and drink until 4 or 5 in the morning while the children play with their new presents or try on their new clothing and go on the street to launch their baby fireworks or fall asleep due to tiredness and too much sugar! All this against a warm summer backdrop, flooded by fireworks smells, floating paper lanterns and the constant singing of the cicadas....
My first-born child (daughter) was born in December of 1994. I truly identified with Mary that year and was impacted by the concept of "Mary, did you know". I can only imagine her joy and sorrow at being the mother of the King of Kings, Son of God.
A more humorous overseas memory is from 1986 when I was living in the Philippines, hearing Christmas carols over the store speaker system of the one major department store in Manila in July! The whole "Christmas in July" was not a popular concept back then!
Growing up in Central Thailand in the seventies there was absolutely nothing in the culture to remind us of Christmas, so my parents invited some fellow missionaries over for an advent wreath once a week for 4 times before Christmas. We sang Christmas hymns, read Scriptures, and reminded each other of Jesus’ birth. We continued that tradition even once back in countries where it was a lot more obvious that Christmas was nearing and now our family keeps it up also.
It’s hard to pick just one Christmas memory! Over the years we established different traditions in our family which have led to fond memories.
In Peru, some of my favourite memories were when our kids would join their other MK friends from school to come carol at our house and when our family joined the other families for the Christmas program at their school. Also, each year about half an hour before midnight we would climb on top of our flat roof and spin around 360 degrees to watch the spectacular show of fireworks going on all around us until just after midnight.
A favourite memory and tradition that we have been able to bring with us and continue is having advent services once a week before Christmas. Each week in December we light a candle to represent Jesus as the light of the world. By the fourth week all four candles are lit. The increasing brightness of the light as we light more candles reminds us that His return is nearer. We have enjoyed sharing this time with friends and family over the years.
Your Christmas Memories & Traditions
We've enjoyed collecting and sharing these memories with you! What about you? What is your favourite Christmas memory? What traditions do you celebrate in this season? How has where you lived, or your family story affected your Christmas traditions and celebrations? As we celebrate and anticipate the coming of Christmas celebrations, let's remember to wonder at Jesus' birth and anticipate His coming again!
Diane Fieje collected these Christmas traditions & memories from our MORE Network team! Diane serves with the MORE Network as a part-time administrator and full-time MK champion. Along with her husband Mike and their children, they spent 20 years in Peru with a mission organization serving children at risk. Having experienced transition back to Canada, first Mike after growing up as a missionary kid in SE Asia, and then as a whole family returning from Peru, they know how hard it can be to readjust to life in North America and are delighted to be able to help others in similar circumstances.