Living outside of my own country, Christmas was a mixed time. I loved the lack of commercialisation in the countries where I was living. It gave opportunity for me to focus more on the blessings in the Christmas story, the way it transform my life and the potential for others to enter into it and begin to experience something of its transforming potential.
Friends and neighbours were always incredibly generous and, as custom dictated, I needed to reciprocate. The cycle of giving is, after all, part of maintaining relationships and the connections of belonging. So festivals like Christmas became an important part of relationship cycles. There were simple things like a plate of food that I had received never being returned empty, or making sure I had enough ‘treats’ in my home so that when people visited to bring their gift, be it fruit or flowers or even a figurine I did not know what to do with, I could host them generously. And I tried to have some gifts that I could farewell them with.
I struggled with this cycle at times. I probably understand more of its importance in relational connections now, but the question still remains, how do I do more than simply fulfil the cultural norms. How can Christmas become a time of meaningful giving as I engaged the relationships that connect me into my communities, and seek to build new relationships?
Of course I love the opportunities when I can tell the Christmas story, or some aspect of it, and preparing so I can do that meaningfully is important. Sometimes my neighbours with whom my relational connection was still developing were uncomfortable and had to leave when I asked to share that with them.
So I started to look for aspects of the Christmas story that could be spoken as blessings on my friends, or written as a blessing attached to a small gift. I looked for gifts that could be symbols of the blessing in some way. One year I focussed on a blessing of peace, picking up the Angels’ word spoken to the shepherds, and I used a small dove as my gift. I attached the words, ‘peace on earth and on you and your family’, written in the local language and in English to my gift, and I spoke them to the person as I handed them the gift (usually). It was interesting recently to see those gifts still in the homes of two friends who I visited.
How do I speak the blessing? It was not easy at first because I was not used to thinking of, or doing, it in my home country, among family and friends, though now it is very much a part of my interactions even there. I use a simple introduction such as ‘may you and your family be blessed with …’ or ‘my prayer this Christmas season is that you would …’ or ‘bless you for coming/your lovely gift, I wish you …’. With practice I felt it was much more a natural part of my conversation.
Christmas is a time of blessing, the greatest blessing of course being Jesus come among us. As our Muslim friends believe Jesus did come born of Mary, I have committed to give focus to the blessings his presence brings. It has helped me reread the Christmas story each year with an ear to hear how God is speaking into the communities where I have the privilege of engaging. And now the cycles of giving have become a place of proclamation as I commit to speaking a blessing out the presence of God making his home among us.
(c) When Women Speak … December 2018
CH spent nearly three decades in South Asia and the Middle East working in education, community development and the Church, and was part of Interserve’s International Leadership for nine years. Her research has included women’s activism and social change in South Asia, violence against women and missiology. She is currently focussed on developing new streams of ministry among women who live under Islam and enabling women academics and practitioners to shape missiology and mission practice. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies (Australian National University).