Celebrating Christmas in the heart of South America is unique. The weather, traditions, and foods are different, yet Jesus’ birth and time with family remain the focus.
Growing up in cold, snowy Wisconsin, the artificial Christmas tree would be set up the day after Thanksgiving, and Christmas music would play on the radio for the next month. On Christmas Eve, each person would pick out their favorite snack to eat that night. A trail down memory lane: I remember great discussions among my three siblings and me to make sure all the main favorite foods were covered – pudding pops, Doritos, cheese whiz, and candy. In the evening, we would open one gift, eat all our yummy snacks, and watch a movie.
Sometimes, my siblings and I would sleep out by the tree. On Christmas Day, we would anxiously await my parents to open their bedroom door. We would begin the morning with my dad reading the Christmas story. After that, we would take turns opening gifts and eat our breakfast, usually cinnamon rolls. The rest of the day, we would have a delicious lunch and enjoy time as a family.
In the heart of South America, Christmas happens during the heat of summer. Our tiny, artificial Christmas tree gets put up whenever one of the family members decides it is time. This year, my youngest son was all excited about Christmas and decided to decorate on October 30th. Most of our Christmas holidays here in Paraguay are spent with my husband’s family. Movies, games, and talking about ministry happen throughout the holidays. Christmas Eve is complete when the children light off firecrackers that echo throughout the valley!
On Christmas morning, we spend time singing Christmas songs and reading the Christmas story. Then we play a very fun, interactive game where each person gets a wrapped gift under the tree or “steals” from another. In the earlier years, there were a few tears by the younger ones before they fully understood the game. The game is the one thing that the kids ask for every year because it is always a mystery as to who brought what gift – and includes LOTS of laughter. After the game, each child gets a plastic bag with some snack foods and fun things, like firecrackers and water balloons. The rest of Christmas day is spent as a family, drinking cold, Paraguayan tereréand eating a barbecue with various kinds of meat.
Celebrating Christmas in two different continents means different weather, traditions, and foods, yet these two remain the same: celebrating Jesus’ birth and enjoying family!
My favorite part of the Christmas story is Luke 2:11-14 KJV where it says,
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Take time to read and reflect on the birth of Jesus – on your own and with your family. Jesus is the reason that we celebrate, at Christmas and all throughout the year.
Keep family traditions alive, and make new ones. One year, our children wanted to open the gifts at midnight, so we said, “Let’s do it!” That is one Christmas that we ALWAYS talk about! Make giving gifts fun. Go Christmas shopping together. Set a price range, and let the kids pick out the gifts. Find ways for you and your family to reach out and serve others.
Christmas in the heart of South America may not be the same as what I grew up with in Wisconsin, yet Jesus’ birth and time with family remain the focus.
Let’s celebrate Jesus today with our families – we don’t need to wait until Christmas morning.