“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
Each December, thousands of people of different races, cultures and languages gather around lights shaped into a traditional African baobab tree in Mandela Square in Johannesburg, South Africa, celebrating the season with carols and the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra and Symphony Choir of Johannesburg. “It is a beautiful reminder of the Christmas message of hope sung and celebrated throughout the world,” says MCC’s area director for Southern Africa, Bruno Baerg of Saskatoon, Sask.
This image of Lukas Rodrick Beiler, infant son of MCC Palestine/Israel workers Ingrid and Ryan Rodrick Beiler of Washington, D.C., was taken at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, the spot where tradition says that Jesus was born. Lukas was born in Bethlehem in August 2012 and was a month old when this photo was taken. “As I look at this image,” says Ryan, “and as I've held Lukas in my arms while seeing so many images of war and destruction in Gaza in recent weeks – including the bodies of Palestinian children killed by Israeli air strikes – I'm reminded of how fragile life is, and amazed at the idea that Jesus came to earth in such a fragile form.” MCC invites your prayers for peace and hope in this region.
Depictions of Christ’s birth reflect the place, culture and artistic traditions of the land where they are made. The Chinese artist who made this nativity set carved the figures with traditional Chinese clothing. Trees are proportionately larger than the figures, as is common in Chinese art. “These features all served to help us imagine and tell the birth story from an Asian perspective,” says Kathi Suderman of Saskatoon, Sask., MCC representative for Northeast Asia, whose family purchased this set shortly after moving to China 14 years ago. She remembers how she encouraged her children, now grown, to set up the nativity figures and to rearrange the animals and visitors as she and her spouse Rod told and retold the birth story. “The nativity continues to come out each Advent as part of our family celebrations,” she says.
A new outfit is a key part of the Christmas celebration for Nigerian families. In Christmas attire are (from left) Gopar Tapkida of Jos, Nigeria, coordinator of MCC’s regional peace network, with his daughters Melody and Anni and his wife Monica. “Monica is dressed in a Yoruba style while the rest of us are dressed in Igbo style,” Tapkida writes. Traditional clothing such as this predates Nigeria’s celebration of Christmas, which began with the coming of Christian missionaries in the 18th and 19th centuries. “However, Christmas was a celebration of the birth of a new faith and the birth of the Savior of the world. It was seen as improper to celebrate the birth of such a savior with just any kind of clothes. Hence, to celebrate an important event such as Christmas, people had to dress in their best and newest attire,” Tapkida notes. For most children, "Christmas clothes were the most important gifts they expect from their family. The next would be food, but for sure clothing was the first priority.”
In the town of San Miguel Ixtahuacan, Guatemala, members of the local Catholic church participate in a posada. The posada (which means inn in English) remembers the journey of Mary and Joseph as they searched for shelter. Carrying candles and singing, groups move through town, stopping to sing their requests for shelter. Like Mary and Joseph, they are first turned away. Then at last, they are welcomed in, and singing continues, often with a time for refreshments. This posada began at the church, and the people walked and sang with candles to a local school where a reflection was held about peace.
“I know that the miracle of Christmas is something that is taking place here and that I have had the joy to participate with,” Anna Vogt wrote, reflecting on Christmas 2011. In December 2011, Vogt of Dawson City, Yukon Territory, and part of MCC’s Seed program in Colombia, accompanied some 600 people from a displaced Colombian community, Mampuján, on a 45-mile walk to Cartagena to call attention to their situation. “Instead of only being victims, they are learning to see themselves as people with agency and the capability to stand up for a better future,” she wrote. And in watching them do so, she was reminded of the promise in Mary’s song that the Lord “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53)
In Salatiga, Indonesia, MCC worker Karen Treadway of Hillsboro, Ore., noted with appreciation the appearance of Mary and Joseph as traditional Indonesian shadow puppets. "It is a way of expressing an element of Advent shared by followers of Christ around the world, while also embracing the congregation's unique cultural context," says Treadway, who took this photo in the Indonesian Mennonite congregation she attends, Muria Christian Church - Siloam.
Photo by North Ossetian Mission of Christian Compassion
Children attend a Christmas celebration held by an MCC partner organization, North Ossetian Mission of Christian Compassion, in Vladikavkaz in the Caucasus region of Russia. MCC provides a grant to the mission for milk for orphanages and local families in need. Saint Nicholas is a beloved figure in Russia and Ukraine. Traditionally, children will read or recite verses for him before receiving a gift, says Artem Dolya, an MCC program coordinator in Zaporozhye, Ukraine. It also is common for people to dress as wise men and accompany St. Nicholas in gift-giving, an echo of the wise men bringing the first gifts to Jesus, Dolya says.
In Ontario, celebrating the season may mean attending an MCC Christmas kit packing party. People are encouraged to donate items for MCC kits, attend kit packing parties such as this one at the Christian Benefit Thrift Shop in St. Catharines, Ont., or hold their own kit packing parties. Learn more about the effort – Kit the Season! – at mcco.ca/kits/christmas.
In Kathmandu, Nepal, students at Kistland, a Christian school supported by MCC's Global Family education program, sing during a Christmas celebration. Global Family supports the Ichthus Foundation, a network of Christian schools that share resources and expertise and reach out to students from marginalized communities.
In Mallawi, Egypt, this boat showing the Holy Family is part of a local celebration commemorating Mary, Joseph and Jesus crossing the Nile into this part of Egypt. Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church will celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7. That's not the only difference between Christmas for Egypt's Orthodox Christians and the way many people in Canada and the U.S. celebrate Christmas. In Egypt, Advent is a time of fasting where people abstain from eating meat and meat products including dairy. After a midnight church service on Jan. 6, people break the fast with a meal featuring meat, cheese and eggs. A church service follows on Christmas day. Family and friends visit each other for the next few days, often partaking in lots of Christmas cookies served with tea or coffee.
"...I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord." (Luke 2: 10-11)
At the Re-Uzit Shop of New Holland (Pa.), white outlines of the continents of the world encircle the nativity scene in this Christmas ornament. This Christmas season, as we mark the birth of a Savior who came as an infant and changed our world, we celebrate alongside the churches and people of many nations, and we pray that Christ's hope and peace continue to spread. This photo was taken in the Christmas section of the New Holland shop, one of more than 100 thrift shops in Canada and the U.S. that raise funds for MCC's work around the world. Go to thrift.mcc.org to find a shop near you.