Friday, December 13, 2013

Advent 2013


             Growing up in American culture, our experience of the Christmas season was that it was as much a time for family as for church.  The religious dimension was certainly there, with nativity scenes and carols taking their place on the Sundays of December.  But Christmas, first and foremost, was about family.  It was the time when everyone came back home, the time to reconnect -- the time to share with those whose life and history we shared.  We gathered in our grandparents' house or the livingroom of our aunt and uncle to eat and sing and exchange gifts, take a long nap, then eat again before piling into the car and heading home.  Not exactly religious devotion, but it went a long way in keeping our worlds stable, just being reminded that we had a community that loved us and made a place for us at the table.

Then we moved to Bali Indonesia in 1996.  Christmas in Bali is a much less "visible" holy day than it is in North America, mainly because Christianity is the minority religion.  And while it may not be a significant time for the majority Hindu community, it's a major event in the life of the Bali church, even more so than where we grew up. Christmas services and programs fill the December calendar.  And on Christmas Day, Indonesian Christians gather not as families at home, but in their churches for services.  We wondered when they actually exchanged gifts!  We came to realize that family gathering is much less of a focus in the Bali Christmas scene.

After some years of missing the family closeness of Christmas, we decided to begin a new tradition.  Knowing what it feels like to be a stranger in the land, we began inviting others to join us in our home on Christmas Day after church services were finished.  These were folk like us, ones who had no family or whose family was far away.  And in Bali, the number is surprisingly large.  The first year was a small number, only eight or ten people, and mostly North American.  But as the years went on, our Christmas gathering grew both in number and in ethnic diversity.  Today our Christmas Day family numbers as many as 35 people from France to Serbia and Namibia to Japan.  Some of those who join know nothing of Christmas, and others still may never have considered its deeply devotional significance.  But all know what it means to find once again the joy of family and a shared meal.  For that one day in the steamy tropical world of Bali, it really feels like heaven has come down.


- Tina and Jonathan Bailey


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