LAC Missionary April Amiot, alongside her husband, Josh, served stateside in youth ministry for nearly eight years before beginning their missionary endeavor in Mexico City. They are currently serving their second term in Costa Rica where they have launched a University Ministry.
If I were totally honest with myself, I would admit that I have mixed feelings about Christmas overseas. It’s when homesickness hits me the most, and yet I can appreciate the simplicity of the holidays away from the deluge of American Materialism. I remind myself frequently, “It’s not wrong, it’s just different.” I have to deliberately look for the beauty in a holiday season that is so different from what I am accustomed to.
Christmas overseas is a lot less commercialized than it is in America. I recently listened to a sermon where the preacher said, “With awareness of all that you DON’T have comes discontentment.” And I think he’s right. When the grandparents ask us to make Christmas lists for the kids, I always feel like I don’t even know what’s out there anymore. Then we navigate to the website of a popular department store and suddenly feel bad about how out of date we’ve become. We don’t have the latest upgrades of ANYTHING. And up until that moment, we were ok with that. Now suddenly, we want. Every other day of the year, that disconnectedness from American culture and American marketing serves us well. We tend to forget what our favorite foods taste like, forget what stores are in the malls, and forget what home decorating trends are draining savings accounts all over America. Unawareness becomes a way of coping with literally not being able to satisfy our materialistic desires.
When we spend Christmas overseas, I often feel like we are reenacting a Latin American version of Little House on the Prairie. Our children are thrilled to receive one precious can of Dr. Pepper in their stockings. There is nothing to buy here, so we focus our holiday preparations on making things for each other. This year my girls wanted to give their dad all the ingredients for Rice Krispy Bars and I would make them for him whenever he wanted them. I had to go to 5 different stores to find Rice Krispies. Even something so simple really is a labor of love.
Spending Christmas overseas requires making new traditions for our family. Whereas back in the States, the entire holiday season was flooded with Christmas parties, concerts, church plays, and holiday events; overseas our holiday is quieter, simpler, and more family centered. Overseas, the Christmas season is a blank slate to be designed in any way we want. Our circle of family and friends is much smaller, and our options for entertainment are far less overwhelming. We have two or three Christmas parties to attend where we trade plates of homemade cookies with our co-workers and friends. We drive around the city looking for displays of festive lights. And we watch the bull fights on TV the week after Christmas. Our traditions are family centered and not event centered.
Ironically, even with all the simplicity of Christmas overseas, I find it easier to remember that Jesus is the center of Christmas when I’m living in America. I remember as a mom of young kids living in the suburbs of America that I had no problem keeping Jesus the center of the holiday. I made a birthday cake for Jesus every year. I bought gifts for our kids to give to their church nursery or Sunday School class. We packed shoe boxes of gifts for needy children around the world. Our kids performed in the church Nativity or kids’ choir. And my husband and I often attended a performance of Handel’s Messiah in December. Yes, Santa was ubiquitous and gifts were easily the “reason for the season,” but always in our jam packed calendar of Christmas events there was a sweet anticipation of birth of Baby Jesus represented on Christmas cards exchanged and sung in carols and admired in manger scenes. It was not hard to see that Christmas was about Jesus when we lived in America. But none of that exists for Christmas in my country overseas where Coca-Cola has better marketing than Baby Jesus.
So the mixed feelings about Christmas overseas are real and raw every year. I miss the nostalgia of snow and family and traditions, but I can appreciate and embrace the simplicity of making new traditions and finding ways to emphasize Jesus within our circle of friends and family overseas. It’s not bad, it’s just different.
In what ways can you simplify your holidays to make more room for Jesus? Especially during holidays, please remember to pray for missionaries as they struggle with homesickness and search for ways to create new traditions in their adopted country. Love and blessings to you and your family from overseas.