Every Christmas brings back fond memories of how we celebrated in Brazil. For years, the ritual was the same. We would practice daily for weeks for the Christmas program that always took place at the Church at around 3PM on the Saturday afternoon before Christmas. Mom would buy boxes of candy from a distributor and we would have an assembly line set up, filling up the bags that Santa would hand out at the program.
After the program, we would head out for a walk to the ice cream parlor. (Remember, it was summer down there...) We would get to the gate and Dad would say, "Oh, wait! I forgot something. Be right back!" He would dash in and take the presents out from their hiding places (which we had already found) and put them under the tree. As we got older, we would wait impatiently at the gate, rolling our eyes, knowing what he was doing, but thinking it was funny that he still had to play the game. When we got back, it would be, "Oh, look! Santa must have dropped by while we were out!" We had already felt the packages, shook them around and had some guesses about what we were getting. But, sometimes he succeeded in being especially sneaky and took us completely by surprise. Like, when Charles and I got new 3-speed bikes! That was something! And, I'll never forget when I got my OWN cassette player. I could listen to my own tapes and to whatever radio stations I wanted to in my own room. That was unforgettable.
Presents were opened on Christmas Eve at night. We always had guests over who had nowhere else to go. We would sit in the living room and read the Christmas story from the Bible and sing some hymns. Christmas was definitely about Jesus first, with presents as the icing on the cake. We took time in opening the presents, each one opening one so that everybody could see and then it would be someone else's turn. Not like the frenzy I've witnessed in many places as an adult. We always got something that we really wanted (the bike, the player, etc.) and then clothes. One year, I got a pair of jeans, brand new indigo blue jeans. Too tight. I had a growth spurt and my Mom wanted me to take them back. I begged to let me wear them for the night. I was serving one of the guests coffee (very hot coffee) and tripped. Coffee all over the new pants. My mother was absolutely disgusted with me because now she would not be able to return them. Money was tight for them and now I can look back and understand why she was so mad.
Our festivities would wind down at around 11PM and soon a knock would come at the front door. "Pastor, can Rachel come over to my house now?" That was Adelia, my friend since I was six years old. For years, my parents let me go down the block and spend Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve with her family.
|Me with the Ogama family, 1982|
Even though they were Japanese, they celebrated the Brazilian way: a feast of finger food, every kind of goody you can imagine, tapas style. Several weeks before, they would have built a huge manger scene, taking up a large coffee table. They made hills out of paper bags, ponds out of mirrors, trees and bushes out of sticks and little potted plants. The manger scene would be at the top of the hill and the clay shepherds and magi were out towards the opposite ends of the table. Every day we would move them a little closer to the baby Jesus. On Christmas Eve, they would arrive. We opened more presents, mostly things we had made for each other.
Those days were days of waiting. They were centered on the gravity of God becoming human, of the babe promising love and redemption.
Now my Christmases are a huge contradiction. I have been involved in some form of retail sales for the last 25 years. When I had my brick and mortar shops, I was exhausted by the time Christmas Eve came around. Now that it is all online, I am still exhausted. We depend on these sales to build our businesses, but it takes away the ability to wait, the expectancy. And, then the commercialization of it all now... it's just disgusting. A big part of the problem for me is that I have no children, so I can't replicate the traditions that my parents instilled in us. The joy that children experience is still real. They are the ones that make the celebration fun and exciting. But, then, we all have that child within and that is the challenge: to make each year be a Child's Christmas, where innocence and abundance meet the Child made Man.
May 2012 be a wonderful one for us all!