I didn’t get to spend the 2016 Christmas with my nuclear family, but I was surrounded by my spiritual family. It was a busy time!
The festivities kicked off with an annual Christmas play put on by Hachiman Church. They’ve been doing it faithfully year after year to present the Christmas story to the community and give children their first ever acting roles in English. I got to dress up in a Mrs. Claus costume and join in the choir, helping kids who struggled over their lines. They were SO cute, dressed as Mary, Joseph, angels, sheep, and even a cat. That was followed by a sumptuous Christmas potluck (have you ever seen sushi at a potluck?) and a visit from Santa.
Christmas Eve I came as a special guest to the children’s program at Komatsushima Chapel. We played games and I gave a testimony of why we celebrate Christmas. We also made traditional Japanese Christmas Cakes. It was my first time making the vanilla strawberry cream cake, but there was no shortage of help and creativity from my team of 4 year olds. I had to disappear for a little while, but I hear that Mrs. Claus made another appearance there too. Santa was really busy that day, so she stood in for him to give out gifts. That night I joined the pastor’s family for conveyor belt sushi. I thought that I had a complete collection of friendships with the best people in Tokushima, but that day I found another group to add to my list.
Christmas morning I went to my old church, Bethel Christ. My heart was so full as I walked into the room and saw all the familiar faces. Unlike most churches I’ve been to, the Christmas Day service here is the most casual of the year, allowing everyone to relax and enjoy the redemptive meaning of the day in a loving community. We watched Marie’s Story, a movie about a deaf and blind girl who is brought to a French cloister and taught how to communicate. The movie was in French and subtitles in Japanese, with enough sign language and facial expressions for me to understand the whole thing. The movie was especially fitting because half of the congregation is deaf. Afterwards we all gathered round and ate prepared bento boxes for lunch. Each person drew a photo to represent something they were grateful for, and we went around recounting God’s work in our lives over the past year. Finally, we had a pastor appreciation session, spelling out “Arigatou” with things we love about Pastor T.
That evening I was invited to join the pastor’s family from my English church (Hachiman) for Christmas dinner. It was the coziest thing to sit inside near the heater and listen to family chatter. I got to join in their skype session with family back in the US. As aunts, cousins, and grandmother jumped in front of the screen to talk over the background noise, I soaked up all the love and tradition to reminisce over my own Christmases. And yes… we did have sushi for dinner.