Uganda Christmas Question

Okay, so this Christmas season is not all I had hoped for.  Why am I surprised?  I’ve lived in Uganda a very long time.  I know there is and never will be the traditional Christmas clues.  No Christmas carolers, no snow, no hot chocolate before a cozy fire.  No gifts under the tree, no Christmas morning.  I’m like Charlie Brown, I always feel just a little disappointed.

I know all this very well.  Just like I knew there would be no turkey and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, no hotdogs or fireworks on the Fourth of July and no extra traffic on Labor Day weekend.  It’s just the way things are. It’s called living in another country.  So why am I doing this to myself again this year?

The kids are home from boarding school and there is so much to be grateful for.  Yet all I can see is the treadmill of church services that lay ahead.  Today prayer and fasting, tomorrow a church dinner, on Friday we have overnight prayer.

Did you just skim by that last part?  Overnight prayer; that means praying all night.  I don’t want to pray.  I want to open presents and serve ham with mashed potatoes and gravy.  I want to smell an apple pie baking in the oven.  I want my mom to come by, her cheeks rosy from the snow falling outside.  I want to surprise my sister with the perfect gift.  I want the children to jump up and down with excitement as they run to the tree in their footie pajamas.  But all of that is just not going to happen.  And there’s nothing I can do about that.

So what can I do something about?  Well, now that’s the real question isn’t it?

You may not be living on the equator like I am but you sure had a picture in your head of what the Holidays should be like and I’m sure (I’m sure) reality is not measuring up to what’s in your head.  So let’s address our question honestly; If I can’t change what is happening this Christmas, what can I do something about?

Step one: Don’t Burn the Christmas Card

You know the one I’m talking about.  The little white, snow covered chapel under a deep blue, starry sky.  My sister tells me that I don’t really miss snow, I miss the idea of snow.  No one misses getting into a cold car and scraping the ice off the inside of the windshield with your driver’s license because you’ve misplaced your ice scraper, again.  No one likes the feeling of cold wet feet or the way the snow looks muddy after a few days.

My nostalgic idea of what the Holidays should be, is really just an idea.  It is the desire for a time when things were simpler, less complicated.  A time when I was more pure and the world was not so evil.  When everything was fresh and new like falling snow.  I want to be covered with a pure white blanket of peace that reflects light and makes me feel safe.

That desire is a good thing.  The problem comes when we think the substance is found somewhere in the past; if we could just go back to the good old days.  Yet the Bible says all of that desire will be fulfilled in the future.  It calls that nostalgia more than desire, the Bible calls it longing.

Hebrews 11:16 says, “A longing for a better country – a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

The Holidays is just a tool that God uses to bring out that longing he has placed in each one of us.  We may not notice it the rest of the year, but if you look closely you’ll see it is always with you.

Use this time of longing to make sure you are headed toward your heavenly home.  The chapter in the Bible where this verse is found is all about faith; a faith that administered justice, quenched the fury of the flames and shut the mouths of lions.  Jesus Christ himself is the author and perfecter of that faith.  See to it that you do not miss the grace of God.

So don’t burn the Christmas card, just know where it’s really pointing you – toward heaven.

Step two:  Know that Norman Rockwell Ate Dry Turkey

You remember the famous painting that depicts a large family seated expectantly around the table.  All the traditional holiday foods are heaped in the middle and the mother, complete with white apron, is carrying a huge roasted turkey on a platter.  Yeah, that’s fake.  Okay, maybe not fake, but just a frozen moment in time.  We all would love for life to be like that all the time, but the painting captures a mere snapshot.  How often is life that perfect?  So capture your own moment and take your own mental photograph.  I just took mine.

An old lady (named Agatha) from our church just stopped by to bring a kilogram of uncooked rice for the church dinner.  I know she had to work a long time, walking house to house with her vegetable basket on her head selling eggplant, onions and collard greens, in order to get the money to buy that rice.  I know how much the arthritis in her knees make that a very painful process.  That’s my perfect mental photograph for this morning.  The look on Agatha’s face, the pride that she had something to give.

Step Three:  Open a Can of Spam

Everyone knows Spam is made up of bits and pieces of real meat.  Sure it’s just the scraps, but in a pinch it can sustain you.  Spam is packed with protein (and salt) and it may just be enough to get you through.

When you don’t have enough energy to Open a Can of Whoopass, at least you can open a can of Spam.

Start with what you have, move on from where you are.  For me, this means quieting myself.

I’m always surprised what happens when I quiet myself.  I close my eyes and take a deep breath and listen.  I feel myself automatically reaching out.  God is right there waiting to meet me.  And he is reaching out too.  I find he is so close to me I can almost feel his breath on my face.  Try it and see what happens; even now, close your eyes and listen.  What prayer rises up without you even trying?  Help me.  I’m sorry.  Thank you.  You are not just thinking those thoughts to yourself; God is there and he knows you.  Nothing is impossible for him.


I guess there’s a lot I can do to change my situation, after all. Thank you for helping me figure out what that is.  Just like Charlie Brown, we all have to sort through the clutter to find the real meaning of Christmas.

They are beating the drums calling people to church. I guess I’d better get going.

Catherine Mabongor


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