Merry Christmas! I spoke to friends and family yesterday and saw the warm weather, with people swimming and having BBQs, and I missed my familiar summer Christmas. But Christmas in Tansen has been a wonderful experience and one I look forward to repeating next year.
In some ways, the typical excitement of Christmas has not been any different from home. We have no large shopping centres, so I have not noticed the lack of advertising, or Santa visits. In fact, as I walk everywhere and stay mainly on the hospital compound, I rarely see that the outside world is not celebrating. And my hospital is much more “christmassy” than any other place I have worked.
The hospital here in Tansen is christian, and although not staffed exclusively by christians, the hindu staff accept our beliefs and celebration. And we have a huge concentration of Nepali christians working here. So Christmas is a big celebration in the hospital life. We have carol singing and dancing throughout the hospital. The corridors are decorated by a team of volunteers. This makes a completely different mood than having it be the duty of the staff. Patients ask questions, and the decorations are mostly handmade. It feels like people really mean it. Last week, there was tea and biscuits served by the hospital for all the staff, by the hospital christian fellowship. On the wall of the meeting room was written “Happy Jesus’ Birthday!” There was no picture of Santa Claus to be seen
So the celebration here is much more a celebration of Jesus’s birth and life, than it is a festival of gifts.
Over the last few weeks, we had many ex-missionaries arrive in order to spend Christmas with the team in Tansen. We are surrounded by people of many nationalities and cultures. We have had regular advent church services, which are more the focus of our weekly day off, rather than nipping out to Westfield. We have had various feast celebrations or “Christmas parties” (which is sort of like sacrificing a goat for Christmas, but for eating, not religious sacrifice). We have had extra worship times and carol singing.
Part of the amazing experience of being here to celebrate is the community aspect. We mostly live in a very small geographic area, and we know each other quite well. So on Christmas Eve we had multiple groups dropping in, giving presents and love. We had Swedish carollers come to visit, which we never had when we lived in Templestowe! Throughout the last few days we have spent time with many friends – at church, at our house and theirs. And we all got very dressed up fir church – my first time a sari and the kids thought it was fun to poke me in the belly with their freezing hands!
There are a few sour notes. We woke up early on Christmas morning and skyped with our parents and some friends. It feels much further away than being interstate. And we watched as friends celebrated so far away. We miss our other family and friends at this time – those that are too far away. And it reminds us that we will not see them next Christmas either. 2017 feels very far away. Furthermore, and probably worst of all, I’m not convinced that this country quite understands the importance of weather at christmas time. We are in the midst of winter, with freezing fingers and toes, and no chance of snow!
On reflection, the main thing that strikes me about Australian christmas compared to Nepal is the amount of money spent. Every year it seems that the local area have new flags to hang from light poles, and there are always new decorations in the shopping precincts. I always thought that was very “christmassy” but now I can’t help noticing how expensive it is. Even if this was a christian country, there is no way that Nepal would be able to afford such decorations. Nepali style decorations are much more humble and beautiful. Every house decorates their house front with chalk or ochre and celebrates with dancing and singing. I can’t help feeling that our rich country has missed the point.
Merry Christmas to all no matter how or where you celebrate!