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?