Christmas in Zambia was a refreshing experience, different in many respects from what I am accustomed to.
Imagine this: The Christmas season in Zambia is one week long, and it is almost exclusively a religious festival. There are no reminders broadcast on radio or TV about how many shopping days till Christmas. Santa is unknown, and gift-giving is not a part of most people's celebrations. I heard a medley of Christmas songs only once, during the week before Christmas, in Shoprite, Kitwe's main supermarket. We didn't sing carols, even in church, until Christmas Eve.
Yes, I missed some of the special music and pageantry presented at Christmastime at home, but I didn't miss the materialistic aspect at all. Nor did I miss the hectic pace and stress that sometimes characterizes the holiday season in America. Here life slowed down as our campus closed for a two week break from December 20-January 3.
All the holiday activity took place at church. There was a service each day during Christmas week. These took place in the late afternoon and were filled with joyful congregational singing, choral offerings, and a message about some aspect of Jesus or his life. Christmas Eve the service started later and included candle lighting. On Christmas morning there was a joint service with the English and Bemba-speaking congregations praising together. That service started at 9 am and lasted past noon, ending with communion.
The Mindolo UCZ congregation has several different choirs, and each had prepared special music for the season. The Praise Team is an energetic youth choral group with keyboard accompaniment. They sometimes dance while singing. The Jerusalem Choir sings a cappella, or accompanied by drumming. They wear purple robes and sing parts. Their repertoire ranges from traditional choruses to complex cantatas. The Women's Fellowship has its own choir, as does the Men's Fellowship and the theology students. I sometimes wonder if Zambians are born singing--all of them seem to have strong voices and the ability to pick up a melody after hearing it once. No choir uses sheet music.
After church on Christmas Day, most people went home to a big family dinner. Sharing food and visiting with friends and family seem to be universal features of holiday celebrations around the world. We joined with another Mindolo family for our Christmas dinner.
It was a simple, quiet Christmas made special by the services, the music, and above all by the presence of my daughter and grandchildren with me in Zambia.
Our hope for the new year is that there should be more peace and more love within ourselves and out in the world. May we make this wish a reality by our actions and reactions throughout the coming year!