My Kind of Christmas
Once upon a time, there was a little African family: a large boisterous father, an eagle-eyed Mama, two little princesses, and two angsty princes.
On Christmas Eve, Mama dispatched orders for roasted fish, drinks, fried plantains, and spicy sauces. Father pumped the air with music from a time when Mama’s little body hadn’t pushed out little adults.
The princesses would scurry around making the fire, fanning coal below the fish. The princess carried whatever anyone needed, usually with a scowl. They had an unsaid request to play video games as the countdown wound to midnight.
They were a beautiful family during this time; for it was rare that they were all home, together. Over the years, the princesses and princes have had to travel miles to enroll and study in college. Father and Mama have had to stay home alone.
The family always spent Christmas Eve together. Christmas was a day of feasting. Also, it was a day of screaming orders for the food to be ready in time before church and personal traditions. After church, the princes would go to the local arcade. On this special day, they’d feel little guilt about squandering whatever allowance given them.
The princesses would bicker about what to do. The older usually in disagreement with the younger’s request to tag along.
But, when evening came, the ambiance was a drunk embrace of family, food, happiness and a tinge of the birth of Christ. As the day finished, and the frequency of guests who visited to wish Merry Christmas ( but who the princesses and princes had both agreed decades ago, came only for the food mother cooked so well), the family sat in front of the TV, watching whatever Christmas special was on. They were all tired. Even Mama was too tired to tell anyone to take care of the mountain of dishes or the sea of muddy footsteps the guests and their children (and their hungry) friends had dragged in.
Quiet contemplation and acknowledgment that they loved each other, yet, no one dared say it out loud.
They’d have to wait for next year to relish this moment again.
But that was once upon a time. On this Christmas, the older prince sees pictures of the family online. He is thousands of miles across the sea, with his own wife, he isn’t going to church this Christmas morning.
A different kind of Christmas.
Brothers, Traditions and Christmas past.
My baby brother and I bonded over video games. From the very first and uber crappy Prince of Persia on MS-DOS to Jackie Chan Stunt Master on Playstation one to Guitar Hero III. Our parents could not always afford each upgrade, so, we did with what we had.
Christmas was a big deal for us two for this reason. After church and the compulsory family lunch, we’d take a cab and travel about 20 minutes to a video game arcade. The games were not typical arcade games: the owners had rigged PlayStation games to a timer. Each player bought time from the main controller. My brother and I would spend, on average, 3000FCFA ( $6 US Dollars) on our Christmas gaming.
To put things in perspective, 500FCFA could buy us both a full meal on any given day.
We’d spent 6 meals worth of money in one afternoon.
It always felt good.
Around 5 pm, as the sun went down, my brother and I would walk back home. With our cab fare in our pockets, we’d trudge through the December dust, a spring in our steps — me and my brother, my only brother.
There was this one time we used the fare to buy a cake that left me sprawled in the toilet around 1 am on the 26th. But that’s another story.
Christmas for us always looked or felt this way: food with our mother’s penchant for perfection; church with my father’s quiet contemplation, personal traditions built over the years; cleaning dishes and floors we never dirtied but had to.
As the years dragged on, we grew older. We became more of ourselves and found it hard to stay in this predetermined loop.
I dealt with things that I couldn’t talk about with my parents during Christmas: heartbreak, depression, disappointment.
My siblings stopped being teenagers and had their own issues.
I felt, for most of our holidays, that I had failed as their oldest brother.
The Christmas of 2017, my fiance (now wife) spent that time with us in Cameroon. It was also the first time we didn’t have my mother with us: she was recovering from surgery and was, at the time, with our Aunt many miles away. We broke a lot of that tradition. There was less food, more group activities, and less personal traditions. We all missed my mother’s presence, especially my father.
Watching him go through this period gave me an idea of what would happen to me after years of bonding with the person you choose to love.
Also, that particular Christmas, I chose not to go to church.
6 months later, I left Cameroon.
Finding Jesus: A Short Prelude
I look forward to talking about how the way I see myself as a Christian has changed a lot in 2018. It is the highlight of my year — the way I have been able to navigate change, depression, sadness, and life as a whole.
I don’t think I would have survived without the way my spiritual life improved this year. This has seeped into my Christmas and influenced the way I now choose to respond to the 25th of December.
I was born and raised Catholic. My parents and siblings still are. My wife and I no longer consider ourselves Catholic.
How this happened is the subject of yet another article, but is also the reason why you’re reading this.
All my life, I felt there was a bridge I had to cross to meet Jesus. That there was a way — unclear — -seemingly unavailable to me, that made me think I would never get this whole Jesus thing. When I moved to the USA in June, er my wife took my skeptic self to Smoky Hill Vineyard where she’d been going for 6 years. For the first time in my life, I thought to myself:
Woah. Jesus is actually cool.
To be completely honest, some days, I want the people at the church to disappoint me so that I can say:
I was right! Y’all are hypocrites. Regular humans can NOT be this nice. You can’t make loving Jesus so accessible and easy. You can’t make it possible for me to be a Christian, want to do good and still strive for more as a human and as a follower of Jesus.
I haven’t had that feeling yet.
What Christmas Feels Like
As soon as I felt welcome in the church, I started volunteering with the media team. Sometimes I’ll be at the back with those who work the screens for lyrics, videos, and other slides. Sometimes, like this Christmas Eve Celebrations, I’ll be on the tracking Camera, connected with the producer via walkie-talkie and keeping up with the unpredictable pace of moving humans.
When I say it’s a high stakes task, it is a high stakes task: lose focus for 1 minute and every single person in the building would notice.
( Okay, maybe only those who need the screens to see what’s too far from them. Not everyone. )
We had a beautiful Christmas Eve Eve, and Christmas Eve celebration. Over a dozen instrumentalists, worship songs related to the celebration of Christmas and messages from our Paster Greg — my wife thinks he looks a lot like the character Negan from The Walking Dead and she hated that she couldn’t hate Negan as much as she’d have preferred.
These celebrations tied in well with the mounting theme from Easter, then advent. I felt we’d been preparing for this moment, for weeks, if not the whole year.
I felt a newer understanding of Jesus and the role He plays in my life whether I was aware of His presence or not.
After the Christmas Eve Eve celebration, my wife and I had this conversation about love and fear. About how we could reframe our past, and even our present to allow for plenty in our lives.
For some reason, I felt like a lot of what I had been reading and listening had led us to this point. That the feelings we had on this fateful day, tied with the theme of reflection, introspection through December.
This is what Christmas is about for me: preparing for the coming of Jesus, taking stock of what could be better, basking in the gratitude of the goodness of things and reflecting on lessons, losses, and more.
This is what Christmas should feel like.
In the face of Death, Depression, and the World.
This year, my friend lost her older sister and her grandmother. I lost a mentor. In my wife’s family, we lost a cousin and a father-in-law. We also lost Jake, our dog. Two days ago, I was scrolling through Facebook — procrastinating — when I saw pictures of an older friend I’d only spoken to online. She was dead after a long fight with breast cancer. I also saw a picture of a friend I used to play video games with when I was back in Cameroon — he too dead.
And there’s more.
November was very hard for me here in the USA. I felt homesick, dependent on everyone but myself, useless, and a waste of this body and mind. I never thought of killing myself — I have my wife, my family, and friends, online and offline, to thank for this.
How is it possible to believe in Jesus, go to Church every Sunday and still feel human?
The answer to that question is in the question.
The world doesn’t stop being what it is because I’ve chosen to live with Jesus as my personal Lord and savior.
People will die. My articles will get zero views. Immigration will take the time it will take. We will pay bills.
Life. Still. happens.
The world will still go on even when I die. It still does even when I am depressed.
Jesus dying on the cross, accepting His fate, for us, is a symbol of how we must do what we must do, no matter the price. It makes me want to stay up at night and study how to make better videos.
It makes me want to be better. It makes me ask my wife how I could be a better husband. It makes me talk to my siblings with more intent.
Looking at Jesus with my new understanding allows me to focus on what I can do with Him.
The miracle is life. The rest is work.
My Kind of Christmas?
As we sat yesterday, all volunteers, eating lunch before the worship began, I felt loved. My wife was by me, there was laughter in the air, food on the table, friends I had only met a few weeks ago. People who couldn’t even pronounce my name. Children, young adults, older men, and women. For a moment, I had no reason to smile, yet I did.
Or, I had more reasons than I could count.
At that moment, I didn’t think of my parents or my siblings or how I missed Cameroon. I didn’t think of how I still couldn’t drive or how I had to write more to grow as a writer.
I had never felt more present than in that non-denominational gathering of people who were happy to be there, sharing a meal and thinking about the coming of Jesus as a baby to be later on sacrificed to wash away our sins.
It wasn’t about the food or the people or the place. It wasn’t about me.
It was about the birth of Jesus — my savior. Who died on the cross — a tree, like the Christmas tree — for me.
That’s the way I want to celebrate Christmas.
I have never enjoyed parties. Now, with my view of Christmas, my view on parties, gifts, food, Santa, all that has rattled.
I understand how this would be important to anyone but me. I can also see myself having to deal with other people who believe this is what Christmas is about.
I understand. But I disagree. That’s not my kind of Christmas. Let’s agree to disagree.
Once upon a time, the prince looked at the life he’d once known and smiled. His wife called his family, miles away over the phone. He was on his computer, writing about his Kind of Christmas. He took a break, on this Christmas day, to hear the voices of his father, his mother, his brother, and his sisters. He felt joy and happiness; a little nostalgia for Christmas past.
There was no tree, no fish, no gifts, and no church to attend on the mild winter afternoon wind in their Colorado home — a wind rife with anticipation for the year to come.
Merry Christmas to you, my friend. May the coming year fill you with light, joy, and love.