Well, I’ve been away for some time. My children and grandchildren who live in Central Asia have been home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We had a great Christmas together. Our family saw them off at the airport today. Their return to Asia reminded me of our “Mango” Christmases in Africa when our children were young.
When I went to Sierra Leone, West Africa, I thought that Christmas in America would be one of the things I missed most. How mistaken I was. Some of my family’s best Christmases were our African “mango” Christmases. Christmas there was uncomplicated. There was little commercialism or shopping bustle. Gifts were simple–and meaningful. One year I made doll houses for our daughters–out of five-eight inch plywood! Those doll houses had to be sturdy enough to ride in the back of a pickup over bumpy roads! Some of the paint wasn’t quite dry Christmas morning. Then there were the Christmas carols. Our Sierra Leonean friends–and others who didn’t even know us–would come around at night singing Christmas carols, sometimes late at night. One night about eleven o’clock members of the brass band from the local teachers’ college showed up at our doorstep playing the familiar songs about Christ’s birth. Of course we got up and “thanked” them.
It was in Sierra Leone–on our eldest daughter’s first Christmas–that we began our long standing tradition of having Jesus’ Birthday Party on Christmas eve! Over the years we have invited all sorts of people to this party. The cake has been different every year. Some of those cakes have become famous. However, it has never been just a birthday party–it has always been a celebration of the Incarnation. Every year we explain–in child-friendly language–that we celebrate Christmas because on that first Christmas God’s Son became a human being like us!
And Christmas day–O, Christmas Day in Sierra Leone. Of course we opened presents, but then it was off to a wonderful Church service, that lasted from two to three hours. Everyone came in new clothes. There would be singing groups and testimonies. It was a joyful celebration of our Lord’s birth. Then, when we lived in a village, all of the believers ate Christmas dinner together. We would invite passers-by to join us. When we lived in town, people sent special Christmas dinners to each other–we would usually get dinners from about three of the best cooks around! The best Sierra Leonean food you could put in your mouth! We discovered that Sierra Leoneans liked popcorn. So we usually made traditional popcorn balls of different colors and sent them to our friends. They were always a big hit.
Those Sierra Leone “mango” Christmases taught me and my family to keep our focus on the true meaning of Christmas–the unspeakably wonderful incarnation of the Son of God. They helped to insulate us against the superficiality of the so-called “holiday season.” Thus, thank God, they have made all of our subsequent Christmases more joyful, as we wait the return in Glory of the one born in a manger.