Do you get nostalgic around Christmas time? Are there fond memories of Christmas that you carry, that you wish you could recreate, or are very keen to recreate from year to year? From a very young age, I was aware that the way my family celebrated Christmas was a little different than the people around me. I suppose that’s true for everybody, that your neighbors or friends have slightly different traditions from yours but since I grew up in a different country it was just more evident.
For one thing, people from Latin America tend to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. Oh, they may have gone to church Christmas Eve, but they also opened presents on Christmas Eve. So while my friends were out riding their new bikes, or playing with their new balls, I was stuck looking at the wrappings under the tree, waiting for Christmas Day. It just didn’t seem right! But don’t worry, as my parent’s only child, and the only grandchild of my grandparents in Costa Rica, Christmas tended to be pretty good to me!
Now, there are some things that I miss living here that were celebrated culturally there. Bullfights, for instance. Now, when you think of a bullfight, that’s not what happens in Costa Rica. In Spanish bullfights (in Spain), there is a “matador” (literally: one who kills) who toys with the bull and eventually weakens and kills it. That’s not how it works in Costa Rica. Anyone with a couple of bucks could pay to get in the ring themselves to try their skill at bull evasion. The promoters find the friskiest bull they can and release it into the ring with 50 or so guys, and, well, just let nature take its course.
Usually, some inebriated numbskull would try to yank the bull’s tail and would eventually be successful. Now the bull is after that person, and whomever else is in the way. The ensuing mayhem delights the tens of thousands of people who had paid even more money just to watch the proceedings. Spectating was in fact a contact sport too, as the bleachers looked like they were designed and built by the spectators themselves, not architects or engineers. The bleachers swayed constantly, and if the bull ran into them, you could feel the bump. Excitement was a 3D experience…maybe the original 4-D experience. If you look this up on YouTube, you will not see the bleachers I am describing because somebody eventually complained to Building and Zoning.
But isn’t that what nostalgia is about? It’s remembering a better time from long ago. You may remember this as a song by The Melodians back in the 1970’s, but Psalm 137 is a Psalm of reminiscing…oh, ok, it’s more of lament. But it starts out by saying, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we wept, when we remembered Zion.” They remembered with fondness the times of old when they lived in Jerusalem, back in a better time.
One of the reasons we have joy at Christmas time is because we are not relegated to nostalgia. Nostalgia is a good thing. It recognizes that we have been blessed in the past. But the Good News of Christmas is that the Gift was not something that was left back in Zion. The Gift is still here. The Gift is only still in the manger figuratively, not literally. Jesus was our savior back when He was born, and He is our Savior today. Jesus’ birth not only transformed history, He is transforming us today. The tidings of Good News, of peace and joy, weren’t just for some wistful shepherds…the proclamation is for us today.
Nostalgia turns to joy when the thing remembered is continued or improved on in the present. I am grateful for the memories being created here—on Sunday mornings, at our concert last Sunday, of our Night in Bethlehem last night, and the Christmas Eve services coming up. And yes, maybe a gift or two under the tree.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. Psalm 47:1