Sunday, December 20, 2015

Gifts and Preparations

A Christmas tradition worldwide is to give gifts.  Jesus was a gift to the world.  The wise men brought him gifts.  St Nicholas who died in 343 became known, in part, because he gave gifts.  So, today, we give gifts too at Christmas time.

Yes, I know many complain that Christmas has become too commercial.  Even those who don’t celebrate Jesus’ birth go into debt to buy lots of (especially name-brand or up-to-the-minute) “stuff.”  But, the distortion of a tradition doesn’t negate its basic value even if it might influence the ways we give (or ask for) gifts.

Since I have been in Garoua Boulai, I have tried to find gifts that meet the needs of the recipients and to give something small to those Isee the most often.  I am giving the Bible School students ibuprofen because they don’t have basic medicines, mostly because they have so little money.  I am including directions for its use.  I even wrapped them up in old yogurt containers.  (No, each is not full of medicine, but the container is also a small gift.)  I have baked pumpkin pies and ginger snaps that I am sharing with friends – both Christian and Muslim. 

I know that others like to give gifts, too, even if they don’t have the means to give much.  So, I requested a gift from the Bible School students and their spouses.  During morning meditations, they sing beautifully and in harmony.  I asked them to come 15 minutes early to a meditation one day so that they could sing four hymns (in Gbaya) which they often sing and that have become favorites of mine.  They were overjoyed to do it! How do I know?  Instead of 15 minutes early, they showed up 6:45 – 45 minutes before the meditation!  At 7:05 they sent the class president to my house to say they were ready and waiting for me.  (This, from students who are often late for the 7:30 meditation, class, meetings, etc.)  They sang with gusto and even borrowed a drum to accompany the songs!  I am thrilled with my present.

We also took pictures of the students and their families in front of their houses.  That was for me, too, although I am sharing the photos and songs with any student who can bring a USB flash drive. 

I attended the children’s Christmas pageant.  OK, it was part of OSEELC Week that I wrote about recently, but the children of hospital employees, directed by Dr. Joely, sang Christmas songs in Malagasy, English, and French.  They also retold (in French) the Christmas story.  Well done. 

Special meals are also a tradition for the Christmas season – in the USA and Cameroon/CAR.  I will be sharing Christmas dinner with Dr. Solofo and Dr. Joely.  I think someone has been trying to help me out; several cattle have been grazing (and lowing) around my house.  This week, three have decided that my carport is a great place to be.  I figure if they use my space and leave me cow pies (presents?), they must be gifts that I can use for Christmas dinner, no??  (Well, maybe not.  I would have to butcher them myself and the owners might be upset.  I guess it would be better to try to find the owners and get them to control where their cattle go.)

Here, like in the USA, gifts for kids are meant to be a surprise.  I am keeping a couple of dolls and some blocks for a neighbor.  She will get a surprise, too, since I have wrapped them in Christmas paper and added a small “Santa Claus” gift.

I consider it a great gift that I could talk to the Pittsburgh Ragin’ Grannies last Wednesday for 40 minutes during their holiday gathering.  Yes, I had to call at 1:30 a.m. my time, but it was well worth it!  Love the new “no guns” version of the gaggle song.  Thanks for all the news and good wishes.

My new computer, camera, passport, etc. are in Yaoundé!  I can’t really call them presents since the insurance and I paid for them after the theft at my house, but I can say it will be like Christmas after they come the last eight hours to GB.  Thanks to Willie Langdji who brought most of my new “stuff” from the USA after his meeting in Chicago.  (I’m not sure yet when or how they will make the last leg of the journey.)

Other preparations.  I have never really gotten into doing a lot of decorating for Christmas.  In Pittsburgh, I used the excuse that I usually left my house to be with family for the holiday.  I don’t have that excuse here.  I could say that it’s because it’s not cold and snowy.  (Of course, from what I hear it isn’t cold or snowy in Pennsylvania now either!  Temperatures in the 60s.)  It is hot and sunny (up to the mid/upper 80s during the day, even if it gets down to 55-60 at night), so it doesn’t “feel” like Christmas here.  It’s probably safer to say that I am just lazy…  Why put up stuff that you just have to take down in a couple of weeks??  I did get a carved crèche scene last year.  I so have put it and the hot mitt with Father Christmas out, so I have decorated!  (The hot mitt belongs to the guest house; I found it here…)

Advent is not big here (although it has been mentioned in a couple of sermons).  Christmas carols aren’t very common either.  That is, they exist, but I rarely hear them.  Children, though, go around the neighborhood singing on Christmas Eve.  They are given candy or small coins for their efforts.  I have some candy ready.

I am preparing as I can and reflecting on Jesus’ teaching – ways we can better follow his example wherever we are as we wait for his second coming and the celebration of his birth: feed the hunger, give drink to the thirsty, clothe those without, visit the sick and imprisoned.  Treat all as our neighbors, especially those who are different in culture and religion.

Blessed Advent and an early Merry Christmas!

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