To all reading this… Tish and I send the warmest Christmas wishes to you and your family. May God shower his choicest blessings on you and protect you this Christmas and the coming year!
As I write this, it is the afternoon of December 23rd and Christmas is right around the corner. It will be our first Christmas in Botswana, our first outside of America.
Here in Mochudi, Botswana, it is not like the Christmas Season in America. In some small ways it is similar, but for the most part it does not feel like Christmas at all.
Christmas weather is different here. Back in the states it would be cold, and everyone would be hoping for a White Christmas – even down south in Atlanta, Ga where I lived. In Botswana it is summertime. Yesterday it got up to 94 degrees, and was so hot we had trouble sleeping.
Christmas decorations in the USA would be everywhere. I was telling my co-worker, Nozi, that in America every retail business would be decorated for Christmas. They would be draped with tinsel, fake snow, pictures of Santa and his reindeer, or religious symbols – perhaps all of the above. I told her that on most streets, the government would put out Christmas lights, candles or decorations of some kind on the streetlights. Every business would have something signifying the Holiday Season. I told her about how people would decorate their homes, some even so over-the-top that people would drive from miles away just to look at them. I told Nozi that this goes on in every town and city in every state.
In our village of Mochudi, Botswana there are almost no decorations to remind you it is the Christmas season. There are only one or two stores with a small picture of Santa on the window, and no store sells Christmas decorations for homes – and why would they, people don’t decorate their homes, they don’t even have trees to decorate. I did see a bit of decorations in the Game City mall in Gaborone last week, perhaps because of the influence of the sizable contingent of foreigners living in the capital city.
Christmas music is not to be heard. We don’t have a radio or tv in our home anyway, but when I am around the radio (when in a car for instance), I don’t hear Christmas music played non-stop as it is on a lot of American stations.
Batswana kids aren’t excited about Christmas. Here it is not customary to give many gifts. I am told that they may get a new uniform for school or backpack or pair of shoes, and the meal may have meat in it; but other than that Christmas is not different from any other day. In America the excitement for Christmas is highest in the children as they write letters to Santa, tell everyone in their family what they want to receive, and count down the days until that festive morning when the tree is surrounded by gifts just for them.
I told Nozi that this tremendous amount of Christmas spirit though fun and beautiful, for the most part has nothing to do with celebrating the birth of Christ, but is mostly put out to encourage people to take part in the gift-giving (and most importantly to the economy, the gift-buying component of Christmas.
All this has gotten me to think about how influential the commercial aspect of Christmas is. The huge economic engine that had been biding its time roars to life right after Thanksgiving (sometimes before). Companies advertise their products with a Christmas theme in their ads, stores advertise their sales with Christmas music in the background. TV shows put on their Christmas shows. If the true meaning of Christmas should be the birth of Christ, it is pretty much lost in all the noise. In fact the stores are careful to call it the Holiday season and not the Christmas season as they are anxious to not offend and lose sales from people of other faiths or with no faith at all.
Whatever the reason, I love all the hubbub that goes on in America during the Christmas Season. That is what Christmas is to me, and I miss it. But mostly, I miss that I will not be with my family, and I deeply regret that my kids have to have Christmas without their parents. I was talking to someone at church the other day and mentioned that it was our first Thanksgiving and Christmas away from family. This person told me that if you have had to spend time away from family, as we are doing, then in the future during holiday seasons when you are together, it makes it that much more joyful.
We do have some plans for Christmas though, big plans. We will still spend Christmas with family, in a way. Our “other” family — our Peace Corps family will be with us. We are going to have nine fellow Peace Corps volunteers from all over Botswana who will travel to Mochudi and stay in our home for two or three days. We started out planning for five visitors, but other people were interested in joining and suddenly the house is going to be full to bursting with people sleeping on beds and on the floor in both guest rooms and even in the living room. We look forward to catching up with our fellow BOTS-10 volunteers, a gift exchange, watching movies, playing games and maybe we will even sing a Christmas carol or two!
I wrote a blog post about our Christmas celebration, you can read it by clicking HERE.