Our family arrived in Guyana in 1969…and Christmas was soon upon us. At the time, the government was of the hard-lined socialist flavor, and they had severely limited any imports. As a result, Christmas trees as we know them were fairly non-existent. My parents, however, were determined to maintain some of our American traditions and practices in our home, so they made sure we had Christmas—one way or another.
That first tree is burned forever into our memories. The government did have some sort of Christmas tree factory…and they did the best they could, I suppose, with the limited resources they had at the time. Basically, the tree was a modified broomstick…about three-and-a-half-feet tall, planted in a music box base that revolved and played a cheesy, plinky popular Christmas tune. The branches were little more than long bottle washers, spray-painted green. The whole tree had probably 20 of these branches…and they didn’t begin to hide the bare broomstick trunk. We had brought some decorations with us…but few. We spread them as well as we could on the scraggly branches. We found some garland and draped it on the branches…and better yet, we wrapped it around the “trunk” of the tree. Since the stick was in a revolving base, that meant no lights on the tree. So, we taped them to the wall behind the tree. If one stood right in front of the tree, and sort of squinted, it looked like the lights were actually on the tree. Welcome to missionary life!
Christmas morning came as usual…sort of. Guyana, South America, sits just off the equator, so a white Christmas was not an option. We got up to bright sun-light and warm breezes. While toys were few, my parents had found a few at Huggins and Fogarty’s department stores. And, they found books…and that was something we always loved! So, Christmas day was a rousing success as far as my brothers and I were concerned. We passed the day playing…reading…eating. “A good time was had by all!”
The day after Christmas was what surprised me. It was a holiday as well, but it was day for folks to get out and about! People were going here and there…and there seemed to be as much joy in the air as on Christmas…but what in the world was Boxing Day?
Guyana is a unique former British colony, an English-speaking country made up of Hindus, Muslims, Christians and various indigenous peoples. And, as often is the case, they had adopted some of the British practices and customs (tea at 3:00pm!) Boxing Day was one of those adopted practices, a day to box up all the older stuff from the year past and take it to someone less fortunate. So, if I got a new shirt for Christmas, then I should select a shirt from my closet to give away. If I got a new book for Christmas, I should pull a book from bookcase to give to someone who couldn’t afford a book. This practice served/serves several purposes—1) it teaches children to share, to give, 2) it makes us think of others…and to realize that there are those less fortunate than ourselves, and 3) it helps avoid that ‘pack-rat’ tendency that pervades our society! In a small way, Boxing Day becomes one of those moments when we can live out the Scripture—at a special time and in a special way: "If you have two shirts, give one to the poor…” (Luke 3:11).
Unfortunately, we’ve managed to formalize and organize something like this in our churches—and in the process, we’ve cut ourselves off from actually have to come in contact with poor people, and we’ve made it a “big person” thing so the children get to keep ALL their toys. What if we took back the practice and made it a family affair? How about we all celebrate Boxing Day this year—fill a box or two with things and take them to a family in need, to a family less fortunate than ourselves? Hmmm. That just might capture the Spirit of Christmas!