Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Our Charlie Brown Christmas
As a missionary to a country in Africa, I am often asked all kinds of interesting questions...questions about food, housing, wild animals, cannibals, snakes, you get the picture. One thing I have never been asked about, though, is holidays.
Holidays are so ingrained into who we are, that most of us never stop to think about what happens when someone moves to a new culture.
When John and I first moved to Ghana, we didn't give holidays a thought at all. Both of our grandparents and parents had been giving us ornaments since birth, and we bought a few Christmas decorations our first Christmas together, but when it came to Christmas on the field, we didn't give it much consideration. I packed my nativity and thought that was good. We figured Christmas in Ghana would be just like the Christmases we had always known, minus the snow. So we packed up our box of Christmas decor and hoped that maybe sometime we would be able to get it to the field. You see, when we first moved here, we stuffed all we thought was important (and all we could afford to pay for) in ten cardboard boxes. They came with us on the plane. There wasn't room for unimportant things like Christmas decorations!
We arrived in Ghana at the very end of August. Holidays were a long way off! September, October, and November flew by, and all of a sudden, it was December. Suddenly that lone box of Christmas things seemed very important! What were we going to do? It had never occurred to me that Ghanaians (or anyone in the world, for that matter) don't celebrate Christmas like Americans! Doesn't everybody have big evergreen trees, stars, lights, snowmen, candy canes, and wreaths for Christmas?!? Where were the Salvation Army Santas? the lights? the non-stop Christmas songs on the radio and in the stores? More importantly, what we were going to do for Christmas?????
By this time, it was two weeks before Christmas. We had nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. We went to town hoping for something. We went to Melcom, our famous Indian "department" store. Maybe we could find a fake palm tree??? And then we saw it......a Christmas tree!!!! It was beautiful, it was green, it was tall (okay maybe it looked a little taller in the store than it actually was)! We ran and grabbed it! Then we saw a few baskets of flashy silver and gold and rainbow decorations, all kinds of strange things, but we didn't care! It was Christmas stuff!!!! I don't remeber what we paid for that tree. It was probably ridiculously expensive, but we didn't care! We had decorations for Christmas! We asked for them to put it in a box, but they didn't have one. So we walked out the door proudly bearing our new Christmas tree. We were walking down the crowded sidewalks, when someone shouted at us, "Hey broni, nice Christmas.......bush!" Did he just say bush? Now that we were out of the store and were in broad daylight suddenly our glorious Christmas tree didn't look quite so glorious. It looked a lot like a.....bush. My beautiful Christmas dreams were fading once again.
We took that tree home as quickly as we could and set it up. Then we went and got a box to put it on, and then another, until finally, it looked almost like a tree!
The missionary who was here when we first arrived understood rookie missionaries quite well. He had given us a small bag of homemade, stuffed Christmas ornaments his wife had found at a garage sale for us. He knew we would need some things, and he was right. Those old ornaments looked so beautiful to us that day!
Next, we cut out paper snowflakes and put them all over the wall behind the tree. Now we needed stockings. Goofy us, we didn't even bring socks to Ghana! Who needs socks in the tropics? So, John headed to the tailor up the road. He ordered Christmas stockings for us. The problem was, the tailor had never seen stockings before. John drew a quick picture and said he'd be back to pick them up in a few days.
Only one thing left now...gifts! We had another small problem, though. All our money was going to pay for Carey's birth in January. So, we came up with a plan. We would scour our ten boxes (which were still packed, because we didn't have a place to live yet) and find ten "gifts" (a.k.a. things we'd forgetten we packed) to wrap and give each other. We also had 50,000 cedis each to spend on each other (that equaled about $6.00 back then). To top it all off, I had packed wrapping paper from the States. Don't ask me why, cuz I don't know!
We were so excited!
John picked up the stockings a few days before Christmas -- they looked like tie-dyed Tetris blocks! Oh well! On Christmas Eve, we put out all our "presents".
We were ready for the big day! Only, somebody forgot to tell us that the one thing Ghanaians do do on Christmas is visit friends and family. Uh-oh! Oh, and some of them go to church. Uh-oh, again! So, when we found out we had church, we quickly got dressed and ready. We went to church and then came home, ready to celebrate. Suddenly, people began knocking. They were coming to visit. They expected to find biscuits (cookies) and Coke. We had neither. They didn't expect a tree. Or presents. So, we spent the next few hours explaining to every visitor why there were all these gifts under the tree that weren't really gifts. Yeah, it didn't make much sense to them either! I realized after a while that no one was going to leave until they got a treat. What in the world could I give them???? We had nothing to share with that many people. Then a thought struck...give them the candy canes off the tree! Yes, my dear, sweet sis-in-law had sent a big box of them, and we had hung them on the tree. So, off they came, and pretty soon, out everybody went. All satisfied with the strange American candy.
Now it was time for gifts. Since we were living with a national pastor at that time, we had asked him to go through his storage so he could have gifts, too.
We started slowly opening the gifts, one-by-one. A few times, both John and I were really excited, because we had completely forgotten about an object. Pastor Samson just kept looking at us strangely. We went through our odd-looking stockings, too. We had managed to buy a tie for Pastor Samson and slip it in with his other "gifts" and it was quite fun watching him open it. He was quite surprised. John and I thought everything was quite wonderful until Pastor Samson asked us a question...."So is this how all Americans celebrate Christmas? I never knew you all did it like this!" I guess he ddn't "get it". But in the end, we have wonderful memories from our first Christmas, untraditional as it might have been.
Hooray for Charlie Brown Christmases! Hooray for Christmases memories we will never forget!