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Epistula | 8 Minutes

Christmas Trees, Pig Roasts, & Dancing

Christmas Trees, Pig Roasts, & Dancing

This year we asked a few students and teachers in the Veritas community to share their Christmas traditions with us. Read on to see how similarly or differently those around the world celebrate Christ’s birth. 

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"Our Christmas ‘rituals’ have morphed with each stage of our lives. When our four children were little and home, all we did revolved around them, of course. Now it’s all about the grands. God has blessed us with seven of our eleven living near us. So, Advent Sundays involve small gifts for each of them. (To avoid taking out a loan, we keep them really small, but fun.) Christmas Eve is a delightful evening (after the church service) of feasting on shrimp, little smokies, cheeses, more shrimp, etc. 

After we get our tree (it has to be an 8', bushy Grand Fir, freshly cut - we’re unrepentant tree snobs), we invite the grands (and their parents) over to help us decorate it. Actually, we get two trees - Julie has a Swedish heritage so we get a table-top tree for the front window to decorate with Swedish ornaments (I’ve pushed for my Scottish heritage tree to no avail).

Hanging our large assortment of ornaments has its own sub-rituals: the cloth Theodore Roosevelt (holding a Teddy Bear) must be hung front and center; the pickle is hidden by me (to be found later by the grands); Julie’s pink plastic cherub (given to her as an infant) is also hidden deep in the tree, much to her chagrin every year. 

Once the decorating is complete (to be rearranged later by us to hang some ornaments above 4 feet), hot chocolate and ginger Christmas tree cookies are dispersed liberally. (Julie is known far and wide for her varied and marvelous Christmas cookies!) 

Christmas morning must include a tasty candy cane-shaped coffee cake. Prayer, some appropriate Scripture, and then the revealing of gift secrets begins. We distribute gifts from youngest to oldest so everyone can ooh and ahh for each recipient (unless socks are the gift, in which case we just move on...). 

In all we do through these little rituals, we hope to make sweet and cherished memories that focus on Christ and family."

Tom Garfield, Dean of Academics, Idaho, USA

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"Fourteen nervous kids huddle on the far side of the stage, whispering as they finalize preparations for their performance at this Christmas Day service.  Through song and sign, these children present the good news of Romans 6:23. “Paap ki mazduuri tou mirthu hai… (For the wages of sin is death…)” resounds across the rented church building, reaching the ears not only of friends and family members, but also non-believing acquaintances who are keen to understand what the celebration of Christmas is all about.  Through the aid of a slideshow, poster boards with key words, and hand motions accompanying the song, my Indian friends, siblings, and I shared the truth of the gospel message: on one side of a deep chasm stands mankind - sinful, earning death as payment for his wrongdoing, while on the opposite side is God Himself - the Giver, who sent His son Jesus Christ to grant eternal life.  The presentation illustrates that it is impossible for a person to bridge the chasm himself, for only the cross can bridge the gap, allowing sinful humans to re-enter into a right relationship with the Lord.

From the time I was young, the Christmas season has always included preparation and participation in some sort of outreach.  Whether taking kids from the slum out for an “excursion”, inviting friends over for dinner and a game of White Elephant, or organizing a party for employees at a local hospital, Christmas in my household has always been a focused season geared toward being the light in the darkness as much as enjoying time with family.   

What a joy it is that we have ample opportunities, whether in India or elsewhere, to employ the Christmas season for precisely this goal - demonstrating that the bridge over the chasm is formed solely through Jesus, and, along with the shepherds, “[spreading] the word concerning what had been told them about this child”*, to the amazement of all!"

*Luke 2:16-18  

Gracey Washa, India

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"When you think of a Scottish Christmas, you might think of shortbread, kilts, Highland cattle and bagpipes. I think of 50 people all dressed up, holding hands and singing Auld Lang Syne. And then, toward the end, everyone suddenly runs into the middle of the circle continuing to hold hands. Out and in they run until the music breaks into a final jig and everyone continues to dance until midnight. In Scotland, this dance is called a Ceilidh, pronounced 'Kay-lee'. These dances are held throughout the year, but a special one is held around Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve). Since I met my Scottish husband in 2012, this tradition of jigs and reels, dancing with friends, and singing Auld Lang Syne at the close has become a beloved tradition in my family around Christmas time. Each year between Christmas and New Year, we hold a Ceilidh, whether joining one in Scotland, England or Wales (where we now live) or bringing the tradition over to the USA as we visit family. I often play my violin for these dances and my husband is experienced at 'calling' the dance (explaining to the guests how the dances work). I love how everyone is included in the experience, people of all ages from beginners to professionals. The best part for me is at the end when we sing Auld Lang Syne holding hands. It is a reminder of family, friendship and God’s goodness to us in bringing wonderful people into our lives. At the end of each VSA class I teach, I play Auld Lang Syne on my violin as part of our farewell. As we approach this Christmas season and the beginning of a new year, I pray you all have a blessed time with family and friends. And don’t forget to 'drink a cup of kindness yet, for old times’ sake!'"

Sarah Cartwright, VSA Teacher, Wales

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"My family has a few unique Christmas traditions. One of them is when dusting off all the boxes full of decorations we shut all the windows and doors in our house to turn on the air conditioner. As our jungle climate doesn’t allow anything colder than 74 degrees, we have to create our own winter feel. Usually, at the end of the decorating day we make homemade hot chocolate and watch a Christmas movie, this year we had pizza with that.

For a few years now my mom has put our names in a hat for us to pick out our Secret Santas. On Christmas Day we try to guess who our Secret Santa was. 

Another tradition we have is with our Brazilian friends because our relatives live far away. On Christmas Eve we gather at a friend's house with many other people. We play games, talk, dance, and usually lots of upbeat (and sometimes obnoxiously loud) Christmas music is playing. Dinner isn’t served until midnight in order to celebrate the beginning of Christmas Day with feasting. 

Later, on Christmas Day, when we finally wake up after being out till 3 or 4 in the morning, we all gather in the living room. Before any gifts or stockings are touched my father gets out his Bible and reads us the Christmas story. When we were little, we would act out the scenes with either a manger scene or 'live action' with towels on our heads. We talk about the true meaning of Christmas in the story."

Emma Epps, Grade 11, Brazil

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"Where we live in northern Vietnam, December 25 is just another work day and a reason to redecorate the shopping centers. When the small minority of Christians here celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, they declare that there is a true Savior and another way of living in the world. One Christmas I celebrated with a H’Mong church in the foothills of northern Vietnam. There are nearly 1 million H’mong people in northern Vietnam and none of them knew the gospel before 1985. Today, at least one in three H’Mong are Protestant believers. The celebration included a Christmas Eve service and evangelistic event outdoors in front of the church building. Then, on Christmas day they hosted a banquet. This was a pig roast, including at least one pig roasted on a spit and others cooked over an open fire. The feasting included time for a worship service and gift-giving, beginning early and lasting until mid-day. Pastor Mai in this town came to faith in the 1990s, when the Lord began to work among H’Mong communities. Today, he and this church are creating Christian traditions that will solidify their community and pass on the inheritance of faith to their children. When we sat in his traditional stilt home, I asked what the writing carved on the roof rafters meant. ‘Praise the Lord, of course!' Here is a Christian community building its own culture in contrast to the dominant Confuscian-Buddhist culture that surrounds it. Christmas is not nostalgia after a holiday spirit vaguely remembered from childhood (since no one here has such a memory), but a future-oriented call to center the life of these families around God made flesh to save the world. This H’Mong community joins with the church around the world to proclaim Jesus as the newborn king—whether through candles and Christmas trees or through a pig roast and fellowship."

Jonathan Hoglund, VSA Teacher, Vietnam


Christmas trees, pig roasts, or dancing—no matter how you celebrate Christmas this year, we hope you and your family have a blessed Christmas and New Year!