The holidays are usually the time when missionaries start to feel homesick. It usually reminds us of our family, friends, food, traditions, the things that make the holidays feel like the holidays. We are having our eleventh Christmas here without any family other than John, Karen, and I and know it’s lonely. One difference of living in Tanzania however, is that December is a summer month. So, as Christmas is coming closer and closer, it just never feels like Christmas because well, it’s sunny and beautiful. It’s not like we hear Christmas music or see Christmas lights—only fourteen percent of the populace even have electricity and it’s expensive. To get us in the holiday spirit, we watch as many Christmas movies as we have on DVD. We do watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Polar Express” almost every year which makes it feel more like Christmas to us. On Christmas day, we have a traditional Christmas breakfast like we had back in the states and then we open the packages and stockings that we put together. We have a mini Christmas tree, so we put what packages we have around the Christmas tree. Sometimes, we get a special Christmas package and that’s always nice. There is no tradition of Santa Claus or gift-giving here—it’s a poor country and less than half Christian. This year we will have a turkey for Christmas dinner, our third in eleven years.
On Christmas day, Tanzanians spend most of the morning in church and then they go home for a big meal together. Chicken and pilau which is spiced rice dish are very popular. The spices include cumin, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. Then, they just relax together until they go back to church again towards the evening. Here in Bunda, there is nothing special to do really, so the Tanzanians just attend church, eat their meal together, and relax. It does mean that it’s hard to find chickens or eggs to buy the week after Christmas, but we survive. There is still a part of us that longs to be with our whole family but we do have computers that let us see each other live.
So, I think that Christmas in Tanzania is what many Christians in America believe it should be – a simple celebration of the birth of Jesus with time spent together with family. We give our neighbor’s and workers small Christmas gifts and I think we did a great cultural exchange with them even though they now think that American Christmas is a little odd. It may be more natural here, but we do miss the candlelight services, singing “Silent Night,” and feeling cold and wearing sweaters (we don’t even own any sweaters). The birth of Jesus will not go unnoticed in our home this year or any year. It just won’t be the same as yours.