Two members of the Aldor* Bible storying project from Southeast Asia share what Christmas means to them.
The first Christmas I celebrated was when I was young. As far as I can remember, I was probably involved in dancing and singing. Children in my village really loved joining in the Christmas dances. My parents became Christians when I was young, so I am in the second generation of believers. My grandparents, however, are all non-believers. We have had the New Testament in our language since 2005.
In the area where I grew up, Christmas was the biggest celebration all year. We understand Christmas to be the time Jesus came in human flesh and was born to save people from their sin. Everyone really looks forward to Christmas. Families want to get together. Even if we’re far away, we want to go back to the village for Christmas.
Where I grew up, the Church prepares for Christmas well in advance. Starting in November, every home saves as much money as they can to be part of the celebration. People who don’t have much money work hard to plant vegetables and fruits in their fields, or raise chickens so they can be a part of the celebration as well when Christmas comes. Before Christmas, people practise songs to go out carol singing.
We have had the New Testament in our language since 2005
1st December is a holiday we celebrate at church. We go carolling to every house in the church. Some unbelievers will even go with us if we invite them. Every house prepares something for the carollers to eat. We always have full stomachs when we are carolling! Carollers bring small presents (often a calendar) for each house. They sing and announce Jesus’ birth and then pray together. It’s a really happy time. One thing I don’t like, though, is that the people who are carolling collect donations at every house. It can be very hard for poor people.
For Christmas day, if there is just one church in the village, they celebrate all day and night. But if there are many churches from the region getting together, the celebration lasts around two whole days. When many churches gather to celebrate, the village hosting the celebration has to prepare and provide everything, but every church involved contributes to the Christmas offering.
Starting from 24th December, we have a worship service. After the service, the youth from each church present dances, songs, and dramas. On the morning of the 25th, we have another worship service.
Some people just write their own name on their present!
To make special food for the Christmas celebration, we kill a pig or a cow to serve to everyone for the feast. We also give Christmas presents to each other. We cut a Christmas tree in the forest in advance. We set up a large stage for the Christmas celebration and put the tree there; then we hang presents on the tree. People write a note on each present to say who it is for; parents give presents to children, etc, (but some people just write their own name on their present!)
In addition to this, during the Christmas season, sometimes the youth group leads outreaches in other villages with dances, music, dramas, and preaching. During the Christmas season, we usually invite non-believers. Because they are interested in Christian dance, music, and drama, they will come and see what we are doing.
I remember something really well, from when I was about 12. On the last night of November, the youth didn’t sleep. Before midnight, we wrote a Christmas greeting in huge letters on a 100-foot-wide main street downtown so that, for the whole of December, all the people passing in cars would easily be able to read it. And then we went from house to house singing songs and greeting people. When it was finally midnight, we ate rice porridge. Finally we closed with prayer for all the people who would be celebrating Jesus’ birth throughout December.
Because most of the preaching we hear in December is about how Jesus came to the earth to save all people, we celebrate but make a lot of effort not to lose Christ in celebrating Christmas. Some churches choose topics like peace, joy, love, or grace and preach on these topics for the whole month.
For the whole year, we prayed and saved up to do outreach
Last year, our family went on a Christmas outreach trip. We went to a village in a part of our country where there are almost no Christians. This village has around 30 homes. My husband’s cousin moved there after getting married to a woman from this village. He had never told his new family about his God. When we asked why he had never shared with them, he said, ‘I’m not a pastor; I don’t know how.’
Also, since he is a newcomer to this village, and they are very strong Buddhists, he didn’t want to cause any problems. So my husband and I discussed with him and his wife, saying, ‘It would be good if we can come to your village and do something.’
For the whole year, we prayed and saved money to be able to do outreach there. When the December holiday arrived, and my son was out of school, we all went to the village. The first day we rested. We just took time to talk to the family and relatives and get closer with them. In the evening, they made their traditional refreshments and hosted us. It was really enjoyable.
The next day, on December 23, together with the owner of the home where we were staying, we treated the whole village to the traditional soup. They knew that we were Christians, and invited everyone by telling each other that the Christian family was giving away food. So many people ate the soup.
‘Why do Christians celebrate Christmas?’
I hung out where all the women were gathered. My husband stayed in the guest room where the older men and married men were talking. Up to that point, we still hadn’t said anything about Christ. We had to observe the situation first. We were afraid to even start. It could get so bad we would be called in to the police station. But my husband and I, from our different places, were praying for the people eating together. How could they know about Jesus? How could we tell them?
While we were still praying and talking with them, one man asked my husband, ‘Why do Christians celebrate the Christmas festival? What is the reason they celebrate?’
And so we told them we are welcoming Jesus’ birth because he came to free people from their sins. People try to do good things to erase their sin, but Christ came and erased sin for us. With other examples, we explained in such a way that it would be easy for them to understand. They listened to my husband and were really interested. Even though they didn’t join the discussion, the women were sitting near circle of men, listening with interest. People started comparing it to someone with a son who is sentenced to go to prison, but then someone comes and gives a guarantee and sets him free.
Our family returned home joyfully, having accomplished our Christmas goal
I kept praying and was honestly just really excited. The money we used on this trip wasn’t wasted! These people had the chance to hear about Christ’s salvation!
The last morning before we returned to the city where we live, we handed out the tracts we had prepared. Our family of three was able to return home joyfully, having fully accomplished our goal of a Christmas outreach!
June and Ruth work as part of a team training Christians around their country to share Bible stories with their friends, family and neighbours. If you want to share the good news about Jesus too, why not give a gift today? Follow the link below to donate.
*Names changed for security reasons.