It was almost Christmas Eve when I realized how close it was, while I was about to start praying on my own and I was going through the liturgies of Advent. I know that, if I weren’t here, everything around me would remind me of Christmas. The proliferation of Christmas advertising would have pointed me in the direction of these celebrations practically starting from the year’s third quarter in an astute and gradual game.
Between the lighting, the external and internal decorations, suggestions for the menus always more exquisite and the dress code for the Holy Night and the Christmas dinner, the magic aura one feels in the city streets, the typical Christmas carols (…) between one dinner or another with friends and groups from here and there, nothing would distract us, not even the most absent minded, from “what is about to happen…”
Here there is absolutely nothing of the sort. In the city one may see some “imported” signs of Christmas. But not here. The senses are not overwhelmed by this avalanche of stimulations. There is no cold weather and fogged up windows showing flickering lights. One does not hear seasonal songs. One does not feel, or want to join, the frenetic glut of shopping and gifts – and even less the last minute shopping and needs. You do not watch things alone at home on TV. The heat is too intense to even think of changing from your slippers, skirts, shorts and light shirt into heavier clothing. There is no yearning for salted cod and extra-virgin oil. There is no king cake, French toast, walnut cookies or sweets of this or that kind. There are no dreams of toys or promises of instant and quickly passing paradises.
I must confess that, on Christmas week, I was a little apprehensive for being my first Christmas in mission, for missing my family, for everything being so different from what I was used to, and even for not having had electricity or water, making communications difficult and stunting my creativity…
But, this year the Baby Jesus has taught me this much: Christmas is not an ornament. It may look like Christmas all around us, but it will not be if it does not exist within our own self. Christmas is also movement, journeying. We must constantly be moving in order to find it. If we want to see the ‘great light,’ we must get up and go out; we must go meet the mangers where there is human suffering; we must return to the stable of simplicity; we must return to the manger where God’s hope and human hope meet – but always trusting that, between the silence and the word we are looking for, a star will always guide us.
Christmas, I believe, wakes us up to bring us back to our roots, up to the original dream that God has for each one of us. The childhood of God is also our childhood. That is why, after a long wait, we find peace when, finally, we rest in God.
An interesting fact…
After independence, Mozambique became a lay state. However, December 25 was preserved as a feast day, not because it was Christmas, but as the Day of the Family. Thus, on this day, independently of one’s religion, families get together to celebrate the gift of Family (naturally, for the Christian community, this day means much more, because it is the day of Jesus’ birth, when Salvation and true Peace descended on earth). This way, quite deservedly, they get together to celebrate and gain energy for the year that is about to come – but, after all, is not Christmas also this? On Christmas, each time we celebrate hope we end up saying in our hearts that “there is a future for Humankind.”
I will leave you with part of a poem by José Tolentino Mendonça (“We are the manger”) that has resonated with me over the last few weeks:
We are the manger
It is within us that Jesus is born
Within each age and status
Within each discovery and each loss
Within what grown and what falls apart
Within stone and flight
Within whatever in us puts us through water or fire
Best wishes for a Happy New Year
Marisa Almeida, CLM in Mozambique.