Eight years ago, my husband, our three small kids and I moved to Central Asia. We came because God had called us many years before, during our time at university, to live in the 10/40 window. This is the area between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator that has some of the most limited access to the gospel in the world.
Our home city in Central Asia is strategic for the spread of the gospel to the least reached people groups who live here and in the surrounding regions. It was an area desperately in need of the good news of Jesus but also a long way from everything I knew.
During our third year of living in Central Asia, the 25th of December fell on a Sunday. That year our Christmas dinner was spent sitting around a huge, long table with all of our church eating unfamiliar salads and horse meat sausage.
Earlier we had participated in the Christmas concert and this introvert had to sing in front of the whole church with my family. As I sat there drinking my milky tea and talking in a foreign language, I must admit that I longed to be back home with my extended family eating our traditional Christmas roast and sharing gifts and laughter together.
Here in Central Asia the church is young and, in some ways, it's still finding its way and making its own traditions and celebrations. This is not a biblical exposition on how Christianity should integrate into a culture, but simply my observations of how our young church celebrates and the issues I've seen the church struggle with. It's been a privilege to explore with them what Christmas looks like within this culture.
We've watched our fellowship engage with questions like: what is tradition? What is biblical? How do we keep our Central Asian culture and traditions within this new faith?
One of our church leaders has enjoyed hearing about our family Christmas traditions. We've explained advent and the advent wreath we use to help our family to look forward to the Light coming into the world. We've included our leader's family in whatever advent activity we're doing with our kids that year - the names of Jesus or the Jesse tree etc.
The date on which our church chooses to celebrate Christmas is interesting for us. Do we celebrate Christmas on the more Western traditional date of December 25th or do they celebrate along with their orthodox churches in the region on January 9th (this goes for Easter too)?
During Soviet times all the secular Christmassy things were put onto New Year, so here we have a New Year's tree, a New Year's Santa—with a frost fairy to help him—and presents for children on New Year's Day. December 25th is simply another workday (except for when it falls on a Sunday).
Spending Christmases in this part of the world has helped us find traditions that are meaningful for our kids. We've had to ask: how do we make traditions which are special for our kids which transcend culture or the place where we are living?
It's helped me realise the significance of the day without the hype and commercialism - because here that all falls on New Year!
Christmas is about Jesus and celebrating His birth, and I'm realising each year that it doesn't really matter if we're eating roast chicken or horse meat or whether we're with special family or up on stage singing. It's a joy to celebrate the Light coming into the world, especially in this somewhat dark corner of the globe.
So, wherever you are in the world and whatever celebrating Christmas looks like for you, maybe this year take a step back and ask yourself if your celebration of Christmas has become lost in cultural traditions. Has the joy of fairy lights replaced the joy of the true Light that came at Christmas? What would Christmas mean to you if all the tradition was stripped away?
It took horse meat sausage and a trip halfway across the world for me. What will it take for you and your family to truly celebrate the Light that came into the world at Christmas?
Beth Taylor (real name has been changed for security reasons) is a missionary with OM. OM want to see vibrant communities of Jesus followers among the least reached. Established in 1957 by visionary, George Verwer, OM is a dynamic, international Christian missions movement. The OM family of ministries have 5,000 workers representing over 113 nations in more than 110 countries and in world port communities, through their ship, Logos Hope. They are a global community of Jesus followers united to share the love of Jesus with those that don't know it.