Holidays remind the far-flung family member of home, tradition, and making memories with family. I still feel disappointment at the lack of Christmas “spirit” over here. But after having several years to adjust the lens of my worldview a bit, I am able to see parts of our own culture a little more objectively, though I’m sure I’m still biased.
I remember our first couple of years being asked by new believers whether we were having a Good Friday service (or a Christmas service, depending on the holiday). We almost laughed at them, replying, “No…” (“Or course not!” we thought. “Who goes to church on those days?”)
The next couple of years I felt a sense of frustration at the question. Perhaps I was fighting the Holy Spirit’s nudging to introspect about the matter. My attitude: “Humph. That’s old-fashioned. They only ask that because that’s what the state church did for years.” South Africa’s state church during apartheid was the Dutch Reformed church. Other denominations did not have as many rights as the attendees of the state church. The Dutch Reformed had a Christmas and Good Friday service. Naturally new believers in our ministry asked if we were having one.
And now we’ve completed the circle, having both a Christmas and Good Friday service in our little Baptist church. We often combine with the other two Baptist churches in our region for these special services and sometimes have a meal or snack afterwards.
A year or so ago, a blogger asked missionaries what negative aspects they noticed about America and American culture when they return to the States after living abroad. From my perspective, I have come to realize how saturated Americans are with fun. Fun, fun, fun. I catch myself telling my kids to “go have fun” when they play and judging a whole occasion’s worth by whether it was fun or not. Homeschool reviewers call this or that curriculum “fun.” It’s become a right—especially on the holidays!
Americans don’t go to church on the religious holidays, unless they happen to fall on a Sunday in which case we all feel gypped out of our full holiday anyways, because that would ruin our fun. I was frustrated to “give up” my already much-lessened holiday to a day of ministry, which is most definitely in the work category, not the day-off category.
If you have to go to church on Christmas and Good Friday, well…all those rosy pictures you had in your mind of fuzzy-wuzzy family traditions? You can chuck those out. Cinnamon roll brunch after opening presents in our jammies in front of the Christmas tree (after reading the Christmas story, of course)—replace that with getting up early, dressing up the kids to go to church on a muddy, rainy day. And the fancy meal Mom was going to make while the kids all attempt to break their brand-new toys in record time this year? She can’t make it, since she’s at church. You’ll have to do that on Christmas Eve. Oh, but that’s not our tradition, comes the outcry!
On Good Friday if you go to church, you’ll have to replace “fun” with serious sitting still to meditate on Christ’s suffering. That nice long weekend off of work and school when the kids stay home in play clothes and decorate eggs together and then have an Easter egg hunt? That’s out. (at least on Good Friday) Even though of course eggs have nothing to do with Easter, as we all know. “New life!” we call it, trying to make Easter “fun” by mixing a celebration of spring in with Christ’s resurrection, all the while shaking our heads and wagging our fingers at those “syncretistic Africans.”
I have felt angry before at the Africans on Easter weekend: they take days that were made holidays in South Africa solely for worship and observing their religious importance, and use them for drunken parties with constant cacophonous music playing 24 hours all Easter weekend. But how much better are Americans when we say that Jesus is the Reason for the Season, yet feel frustrated at having to go to church to actually worship Him corporately with other believers?
I’m not trying to be too harsh on Americans. I’m not glorifying the natives and saying that African culture is better. Actually their going to church on Good Friday and Christmas isn’t even their own culture; it’s the Afrikaners’. I still think American Christianity is the best expression of Christianity in the modern world. And I like a hard-boiled egg as well as anybody, though did anyone ever think of what an oxymoron it is to eat “deviled” eggs on Easter?
I don’t have all the answers yet for how exactly to observe these holidays. But I am thankful for being put in this position that is forcing me to think more about our traditions. I think we’re one step closer to “rightness” in our feelings when we worship Christ with other believers those two extra days a year—on Christmas and Good Friday. It might not be fun; but that’s not what those days are about, right?
I sure can relate with your mixed emotions of the mix of American with South African tradition. While I also miss much of the way of American holidays – esp. time with extended family, I must say that I’ve grown in appreciation for the services on Christmas and Good Friday. I sometimes wish that I could “just attend” without all the work that a missionary family goes through for a service, but, on the other hand, I am thankful for the time at church that forces my thoughts from the busyness of the day to the real reason for the holiday. However, two “Sunday mornings” within a holiday completely zaps my energy level! At the same time, the lack of energy helps me look for ways to keep the family celebrations simple but memorable thus keeping me out of the “bigger and better celebration mode” 🙂 So, what I quess I am trying to say is that even though I don’t enjoy the mixed emotions that the holidays bring, I’ve started to enjoy the simpler yet more meaningful way of keeping holidays. While I cannot express myself in writing anywhere near as well as you, I hope you understand the thoughts I tried to verbalize! 🙂
You expressed it perfectly! It is draining, especially I think for we missionaries, who often feel like we’re doing everything for the church, and then don’t have family help to celebrate with a big dinner, etc. Thanks for relating to me, Katie. You’re encouraging!
I think it’s all about motive and heart attitude. If people are going to church on Good Friday–here or over there (many people do go to Good Friday services here as well)–out of obligation or tradition without true heart adoration over what Christ has done, then that is wrong. If people are decorating eggs and just having fun and that is taking precedent over true Easter worship, than that is wrong. So no matter where we are, we all have to keep in check what we are doing and why we are doing them. And not becoming legalistic in our church traditions while at the same time not having too much liberty where we do not give Christ first place. Any way, that is just some thoughts!
Well spoken, Amy. Aaron and I have often talked about how much we enjoy these extra services–how they seem so appropriate. Although we had to draw the line on Easter Monday services and the day after Christmas services:) I also agree, Katie, that simpler is more meaningful and enjoyable.
Wow! Easter Monday and day after Christmas is over the top! 🙂
Amy–here’s some nostalgia for you. Instead of Christmas morning, we always do a Christmas Eve service. So now that I only go to Grandma’s every other year, I miss their service. Of course, we do one here, and we always go, and it is good. But there is something about Grandma’s church. After sitting through it this last year and hearing Mrs. Richmond sing the song she always sings, as soon as the service was ended, I said, “Now, it’s Christmas.” It just didn’t feel like Christmas until we went and worshipped corporately. And maybe that’s how the South Africaners feel too about Christmas Day–for me, it’s the service the day before.
I prefer the Christmas Eve service. But I suspect my feelings are more based on my desire for fun or “Christmas spirit” than necessarily spiritually-based. 😉 It’s hard to switch over my ideas of “what is Christmas?” to something fulfilling over here! I’m hoping we can be in the States for Christmas for our next furlough. But that’s a long way off!
I think some is tradition-based, which I think would probably be true for having a Christmas Day service where you are. It doesn’t necessarily make someone more spiritual because they do it on Christmas Day over Christmas Eve. And the culture is so different–here many people travel long distances for Christmas, where they don’t so much over there. I’m sure it would be a struggle getting used to doing Christmas in a different culture and it does make you think about what Christmas is really about–not just the family and fun activities, as I have even a hard time on the years I stay here and try to “celebrate” it with an unsaved family, even though they are great people.
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