This was my first Christmas completely removed from the United States. It has been very different and wonderful.
The most obvious differences have been the weather and wonderful lack of commercialism. As anticipated, Lubutu’s Christmas weather is tropical. Christmas Eve was very hot, with the blazing Equatorial sun in a cloudless sky. Though I cannot say I enjoy sweating on Christmas, it has been nice to escape the West’s commercialism. No one has disposable income here and there is nothing to purchase anyway. Last week I spoke to Kurt and we talked about his anxieties of his yet unbought gifts for his parents and siblings. It was difficult to relate. In a different conversation, my mother asked if it was all right for us to exchange Christmas presents in February, after my return home. The question was so alien to my current situation that it took me a few moments to think and answer.
Though the contexts of weather and commercialism are different, I had an unforgettable holiday. On Christmas Eve I went to church at the cathedral directly opposite Couvent. Four of us entered into a crowd of about 600 people, all beautifully singing, swaying, and dancing. Ten altar boys danced in synchrony, surrounding a motionless singing priest. The interior walls of the church’s vaulted ceiling amplified the passionate voices. We initially joined the large group standing in the rear, dancing and clapping. When the hymn was over, several people offered us their seats. We initially refused but it was clear this was a losing battle. We eventually sat down on a backless wooden bench and listened to the service being conducted in Swahili.
In a forward corner of the church stood a crèche. The figures all had black skin and the manger lay under trees and a roof constructed of banana leaves. The only other decorations hung across the width of the sanctuary. Strings of thousands of packing peanuts criss-crossed over the congregation’s heads. Many more hymns followed with drums providing the only accompaniment. We clapped in time to the music as everyone sang passionately of the holiday.
It had a fantastic Christmas experience here in non-commercialized tropical Lubutu.