As Christmas was approaching this year, it didn’t seem like Christmas. First off, it’s hot in Haiti all the time. I’ve never celebrated Christmas away from Boston, where it’s always cold in the winter. But also, we had no decorations, no lights, no Christmas tree, no gifts, no Christmas cards, and no manger with the missing baby Jesus. Those things are usually part of Christmas for me so things felt a little off.
As I prayed about it, I realized two things. First of all, we weren’t very prepared for our first Christmas in Haiti; we could’ve at least brought some lights. But more importantly, God was trying to tell me something. Though it didn’t “seem” like Christmas time, it still was Christmas time! None of the things that I associate with Christmas, whether religious or not, are necessary for Christmas. Though decorations and gifts are a great way to prepare to celebrate our Savior’s birth, our Christmas experience shouldn’t depend on them.
For years I have been praying about how to make Christmas more about Jesus Christ’s birth and less about all the other things. Though it gets a little easier to do each year, this year I had no choice and I loved it.
On Christmas day, we prayed and ate breakfast as a family, then along with our community we headed to Mass. The bishop and our priest celebrated Mass for lots of very poor elderly people. After Mass, we served and ate food with all of them. It was beautiful to see Bishop Dumas and Fr. Louis sitting amongst the people, spending their Christmas day being Jesus to them and seeing Jesus in them.
When we got home to our Center (The John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization), teens that we minister to performed a dance show for us that they had been rehearsing for months. During one of the dances, they presented us with crackers wrapped in wrapping paper, as they sang us a personalized song. It was so sweet.
So, I got a package of crackers for Christmas. But I got much more than that: the chance to celebrate Jesus’ birth with my family, my fellow missionaries, and the Haitian people. Christ was born to set us free, to bring us an irreplaceable peace and joy that nothing else can give us. I truly felt that peace and joy this Christmas season.
Merry Christmas (for a few more days)!