That's the adjective that keeps running through my mind to describe Christmas time in Uganda.
Why "stripped" you might ask?
"[stripped]: having or containing the bare essentials, with no added features or accessories..." (dictionary.com)
This is the first Christmas in my life where I haven't heard a single child talk about Santa. I also have not heard ANYONE talk about Christmas sales or buying the hottest new toy for their child.
Christmas time in Africa seems so much more....focused! Focused on the baby who was born in a smelly, dirty barn. To be our Savior. Don't get me wrong, (some) families here exchange a few gifts. And they eat lots of yummy food. And they celebrate with music, dancing, etc. And there's nothing wrong with that; this is a joyous holiday! But my point is, the Christmas season is much more "stripped" than what I'm used to seeing in the U.S. (sidenote: I do REALLY miss snow and gorgeous Christmas lights in the neighborhoods....!)
At the beginning of this week, I was sitting in my apartment with all the doors and windows wide open...the fresh breeze was wafting through, yet I was still soooo hot even in a tank top/shorts (sipping lemonade trying to cool off!) So I knew I had to get involved with some Christmas-y activities to get in the spirit! Watoto's Christmas Cantata was incredible....It told the nativity story yet with an African flair (I'm so glad they didn't overly westernize the production!) African dancing and beautiful singing = fabulous. Check out this photo from Watoto's website...
The other week, I helped throw a Christmas party for about 60 street boys (who live in the slums.) I have recently started helping another missionary with her weekly outreach in the local slums. I can't even describe how fulfilling it is to love on these boys! They had such a blast at the Christmas party. I was asked to share the Christmas story, and although I was a bit nervous, I prayed that the boys would understand and receive the hope that only Jesus can give. Several boys accepted Christ at the end--totally a God-thing.
It started REALLY feeling like Christmas on Thursday, when Julie (another missionary who recently moved into the same apartment complex) and I spent allllll day baking Christmas cookies which we handed out to the kids/adults in our neighborhood this morning. Our power went out last night, so I had to frost the sugar cookies (with my homemade pepperminet icing. yum) by candle-light at 11pm....oh, Africa. (We also didn't have running water the last 8 days. But as of today, we have it! Just in time for Christmas....now I can wash clothes, wash dishes, wash my hair.....yaaaaaaay!)
It "cooled off" to about 60+ degrees, therefore I take any chance I can get to wear a hoodie! [Baking is so much more fun with music. Thanks to Brett, I've had Dave Barnes' Christmas album on repeat since November. FANTASTIC music.]
I hope all of you are enjoying your Christmas Eve. I sure did! I attended a Christmas carol service at my church and brought a few of my Ugandan neighbors along which was fantastic. As I sat in the service and listened to a Ugandan guy play "Silent Night" on his saxophone, I was overcome with such joy. Yes, of course I miss my family and our Christmas traditions! But without a doubt, I know this is where I'm supposed to be. I'm excited to experience Christmas in Africa tomorrow with my dear friend/co-worker; her family has invited me to celebrate with them--Ugandan style! :)
I'm not sure why, but I keep thinking about the role the Shepherds played in the Nativity Story. I love the fact that they were the first to hear the news of Jesus' birth....the shepherds weren't wealthy; they weren't well-respected by others. They were truly common people. Yet God wanted the angels to appear to them FIRST. Also, I've never thought about this until this year--but the shepherds were the FIRST missionaries! After worshipping baby Jesus, they returned to their village/homes and told everyone about what they had seen.
Merry Christmas, dear friends!