Seeing Christmas through Foreign Eyes
by Rachael Tsaneva
Consultant, Logos Language Consulting
It’s Christmas, and you and your family are gathering together for a nice meal of…Kentucky Fried Chicken?
Just as many families in Japan believe that Christmas is about enjoying a bucket of KFC, many of our international neighbors have no understanding of the true meaning of the holiday. Some cultures have embraced Santa Claus or similar characters and may have Christmas lights and trees, and yet there is no mention of the birth of Jesus Christ. Other cultures, understanding that Christmas is connected to Christianity and the West, have firmly rejected the holiday. In those places, only individuals might choose to celebrate, sometimes risking severe persecution to do so.
As Christians, we believe that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, son of God, and that he was born to a virgin mother. This statement alone can provoke incredulous responses from those who haven’t heard it - born of a virgin? How could that have happened 2,000 years ago? Some pieces of the story might seem far-fetched, like a sky full of angels announcing his birth to a group of shepherds, while others might sadly feel more familiar to our refugee friends, like the murder of young Hebrew boys by a jealous king.
For someone going through the cultural adjustment of moving to the United States, the buzz around Christmas in every store and even in their own neighborhoods can easily be overwhelming, and it can be easy for them to miss the story of Jesus in the midst of Santa Claus and shiny decorations. So how can you love your international neighbors and help them to understand the true meaning of Christmas?
Be prepared. Practice sharing the whole Christmas story in simple language. Remember that the story of Christ didn’t start in the manger; it started in Genesis 1. Share the story of the Bible and the God who loved a sinful, rebellious world enough to send His Son as a helpless infant. Remember that, though you might have heard this story 1,000 times, it might be the very first time for your friends - so cherish the opportunity to share this miraculous truth!
Be welcoming. Invite them in. Hospitality is greatly prized in many world cultures, and even more so at holidays. Inviting an international friend (or even a whole family) to join you at this time can provide opportunities to share the true meaning of Christmas.
Be intentional. Read the Christmas story together and explain it. Invite your friend to join you at church, explaining it throughout or after the service. Listen to and read through a carol about the birth of Christ. Make Christmas cookies together and talk about why we celebrate. Exchange simple gifts and point back to the gift of Christ for us.
Be patient. For your friend’s first Christmas in the United States, he might want to experience everything…or she might not want anything to do with it. Don’t be surprised if your friend rejects the story; after all, virgin births aren’t easy to accept as factual! Just continue to pray and welcome them.
Being present with our international friends at the holidays can make a huge impact on them. Ultimately, remember that the Holy Spirit is the one who works in hearts. Be prepared, be welcoming, be intentional, be patient, and leave space for the Spirit to work!