This year will be my first year celebrating Christmas without my family, as well as my first Christmas outside of the United States. So far, the weeks before Christmas have looked very different from how I am used to celebrating. How so, you may ask? Well, I have been listening to Christmas music while sweating bullets with the sun beating down on my face. Quite the opposite of how I imagine Christmas. Decorating Christmas cookies and houses and sipping on hot chocolate are not really a thing here (or at least not in the part of Santiago where I live).
Although I miss all of the things that I typically associate with Christmas (including the cold and snow), without them, I have been given the time and space to reflect on what Christmas really is about—Christ’s birth. The families who participate in the Catholic sponsorship program that I work for, Chalice, have also inspired me to reflect on the meaning of Christmas. Each group hosts an annual Christmas party for their children and family members in the program, and they must work together to plan the celebration.
The children who are sponsored sang and danced to Christmas carols about donkeys and the birth of baby Jesus as they were dressed as a person or animal from the manger scene. Bible passages were read, food was shared and laughter was abundant. A prayer of thanksgiving was offered for providing an opportunity for everyone to come together to celebrate and honor the birth of Jesus. At almost all of the parties, someone in the group reminded everyone of the dangers of materializing Christmas, especially for the children.
Considering all of these parties were very simple compared to Christmas parties that I have attended in the U.S., it made me reflect if I have become too accustomed to traditions that take away from the real meaning of Christmas. After all, many of the children in the sponsorship program will only receive one gift this year; that is the gift that their sponsors have provided for them. One gift? Can you imagine a Christmas with one gift? My old self might have been disappointed to only receive one gift; however, journeying with the families in the sponsorship program have helped me to re-evaluate what is most important in life and to remind me of the true meaning of Christmas.
Finally, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about a tradition for many Chilean families on Christmas Eve. Instead of telling the children they need to go to bed or else Santa Claus will not come, many families stay up until midnight so they can celebrate the birth of Jesus as early as possible, even before opening any gifts (if they can afford them). This is yet another beautiful way that they are putting Christ first on Christmas day.
Happy Holidays and I hope that each one of you is filled with love and peace during this season. God bless you all!
Written by Madeline Pilney Chile Community, 16-17