Here on the African Homestead, Holidays are work. Everything about having a Holiday here is work, even getting into the mood of Christmas is at times hard work. Before Christmas season last year I never realized just how much of the mood of Christmas and the environment of it is set for you back in the States. To begin with you have winter there; nothing else gets me in the mood for Christmas so much as snow does. Yes you have all the yuck and hard work that comes with it but there is just something about having that white Christmas.
Then you also have the stores and towns decorated for you so everywhere you walk you see Christmas. The radios play Christmas music for you, along with all of the places you are busy going to (seriously – even the bathroom of a restaurant or a bank plays Christmas music in December). You dont have to work for it like you do here. If you want Christmas music, you have to play it (is your playlist big enough because it will get very repetative after a while). You take all the effort that you can to decorate your house if you are lucky enough to have things here to decorate with but the instant you look out that open window or walk outside, no more Christmas – unending tropical heat awaits.
Bigger still – the food. What would a classic Holiday meal be without certain things? Have you ever thought about what food items really embody Christmas for you? Was it the turkey, sweet potatoes, pie, stuffing or cranberries? Can you imagine Christmas without them? All over the world missionaries have to go without these things but here on the homestead we are incredibly spoiled. We have friends in Kampala Uganda that do some shopping for us and what we cant buy we grow, raise and make ourselves. That means two weeks before prepping we dig up our sweet potatoes and start curing the hams for Christmas dinner (that involves growing the potatoes and raising and butchering a pig). Special groceries like apples for pies, whipping cream and cranberries are ordered from Uganda. Other goodies like fudge, cookies, summer sausage, caramels, etc. have to be made from scratch (and I mean scratch, scratch. Like making the marshmallow cream to make the fudge, skimming the cream from your milk to make the caramels And grinding the meat to cure for summer sausage). I am the grocery store peeps . . . .
And the biggest piece is family. I guess I just never realized how special and blessed I was to have so much of my family around me during Christmas before moving here. I never saw just how spoiled I was in the comfort of knowing everyone would be together and there would be laughter and joy and above all love. I miss them terribly during this time of the year – the Joyful time of the year is now a sad time of year. There is still joy to be found, dont get me wrong – Christ’s arrival is just as important in Africa as America- but there is something to be said for being surrounded by your family and traditions. There is also family to be found here in the form of close friends in the missionary community; women you love like sisters, aunts, cousins; men who are like brothers, cousins, uncles. You can find it here, but its still work.
Now what about presents? Obviously from the pictures we have them. Presents are something that have to be thought about WAY ahead of time, sometimes even years ahead (yes Im serious). They can be brought back from furloughs (hence the years ahead), sent over in a package if you can get mail, bought in a nearby city or town if you have that, hand carried by someone who is visiting and hand-made. Im making many gifts this year for various people but cannot say what – they may read this! – have bought gifts, had some mailed, had some brought and even bought and brought back gifts on furlough as well. I’ve done them all. They all take plenty of forethought and time. Work.
Other things that the Holiday season means are excess food sitting around our house waiting to be divided up amoungst our workers (including dried fish stinking up my pantry), decorations, a neglected garden, hot dry season, minimal projects, and a wrapping station mess on our table. Every year MAF here gives a Christmas basket to each of their Congolese workers that is filled with food, matches, soap, etc. to ensure they eat well over Christmas. We as a family decided to do the same thing for our workers, hence the excess food, dried fish and cooking pots lying around. They will be assembled and given to our people next week. I’ve decided that each year for the months of November and December I am going to take a break from heavy gardening; there may still be things to harvest and eat but everything else like planting will wait until January. And when I say minimal projects thats what I mean – we always have some happening but they are smaller or not as stressed to get done.
So Christmas here is different. It’s not like I’d be back home playing with sidewalk chalk and planning a pool hang out but thats the reality of here. It’s hot. It’s Christmas in summer. It has both Joy and grief, companionship and loneliness. Christ still came to earth, not just on one continent so it is still Christmas. We still have people we love here and there. There are presents under our tree, food prepping to be eaten and more. Christmas is very different here. Christmas is good but it is still work here. May God Bless your Christmas wherever it is and with whatever it involves. Merry Christmas everyone – Love the Petersens
Ashley, I love all that you’re doing to celebrate old and create new Christmas traditions. It will get easier with time, and what feels normal will gradually change. Nevertheless, it is hard work, and I’m thinking of you during this time of your first Christmas in the DRC.