When I told my friends and colleagues in Atlanta that I would be visiting India until December 28th, the reaction I received was almost unanimous: “You’re going to miss Christmas?!” they would say in a tone that sounded as shocked as it did sympathetic. “I’m so sorry,” they would continue, or, “That’s too bad.” I heard this over and over again from everyone from people at church to the lady at the airport ticket counter when I checked in for my flight.
I’m sure these people meant well, and I tried to appreciate the concern they expressed. But after a point it got old and annoying. “I’m not missing Christmas,” I would attempt to explain; “I’m just celebrating it in another country.” Somehow no one seemed convinced. The responses even caused me to question whether some people had actually read all of Luke chapter 2. Remember the part about the angel proclaiming, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for ALL THE PEOPLE” (Luke 2:10)? I was pretty sure that “all the people” included people in India.
You see, I intentionally planned my trip this way so I could experience the Christmas season in a different culture and observe how both believers and unbelievers in India approach the Advent. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but I’ve been in India for over a month now and I’m happy to report that it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas all over this country… from the rural villages and remote slums of East India to the posh hotels and shopping markets in the North. Yes, the spirit of Christmas is alive and well here, and it has been phenomenal to participate in many different celebrations with a vast array of people.
My highlights so far include:
Nativity in the Slum (New Delhi, Delhi)
Watching children in the Khadar slum act out the Nativity Story… it was one of the most beautiful and touching things I have ever witnessed. These children’s parents are called “rag-pickers,” as they go through trash and try to salvage what they can in order to survive. Seeing the joy on these kids’ faces as they talked about Jesus is something I will never forget. I’ve now seen the Christmas story acted out numerous times over here in different settings, and each time I am reminded of the Gospel’s universal scope!
Candlelight in the Field (Ranchi, Jharkhand)
Gathering with thousands of believers on an open field one night in rural Ranchi for Jharkhand’s “Christmas Carol Competition and Candlelight Service”… words could not describe my amazement! I was moved to tears as I saw people — young and old, rich and poor, from dozens of villages far and near — celebrating the birth of our Savior. They are passionate and devoted to lifting up Jesus’ name in all circumstances, and I was both challenged and blessed. Believers here do so much with so little; we in the States often do so little with so much!
Giant Gingerbread House (New Delhi)
My cousin Rashmi and I helped build a 9-foot tall Gingerbread House at the luxurious Shangri-La Hotel in the middle of New Delhi… we worked with some all-star chefs from Europe, and ate way too much of the gingerbread and icing in the process! There are also tons of Christmas trees popping up all over the place and lots of lights everywhere… I haven’t found any candy canes yet, but I’m still looking! There is plenty of fruitcake, though.
Remembering Rudolph (Jhalda, West Bengal)
I would like to confirm that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has in fact gone down in history. In the rural village where my mom was born, I hung out with a bunch of school children who could barely speak English, but they could sing “Rudolph” almost perfectly! It’s fun to see the American traditions that have made their way over here in even the most remote parts of the country.
Outsourced Santa with an Indian Accent (Gurgaon, Haryana)
A church in Gurgaon (a.k.a. the “Call Center Capital of the World”) organized a big Christmas outreach event for the community last weekend, complete with Santa Clause and all! This guy wasn’t quite as sophisticated as the Santas in Atlanta’s shopping malls, but his “Ho-Ho-Ho” was pretty good!
Shopping Galore (All Over)
Who needs Black Friday when you have JanPath Market? The Christmas decorations and handicrafts here are exquisite, and I’ve come across some pretty unique items on my Christmas shopping sprees. My favorite things to purchase are these paper mache ornaments from the Kashmir region, which were hand-painted by Islamic artisans… and going to their shops enables me to share with them the true meaning of Christmas!
Meeting Up with Missionaries and Ministers (All Over)
It has been a joy to connect with many missionaries and Christian workers doing ministry here, most of whom I cannot mention by name because of the restricted nature of their work in environments that are often hostile to the Gospel. Christmas provides powerful opportunities for them to be a light in a dark place, as an estimated less than 2% of India’s population is Christian. I met with a Christian attorney this week who helps defend persecuted believers across India, and I teared up as she told me one story after another of those who have suffered for their faith. “I am inspired by people like the family in Orissa [in South India] whose neighbor wants to hack them to death, yet they still put out a star at Christmas,” she said. I was blown away.
These are a just a few snapshots of Christmas from across the miles… I want everyone to know that people all over the world are observing Advent and preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birthday! I have always enjoyed the Christmas season in the States, and I’m sure there is nothing quite like the Macy’s Christmas tree in Herald Square or being home for the holidays with a cup of hot chocolate and warm cookies with my family. But I’m thrilled to be in India during this season, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
This Christmas, remember to pray for the celebrations taking place in foreign countries, especially as many believers are under attack. Encourage your children to develop a global worldview, even as you embrace your own traditions. Above all, give thanks that Christmas is truly an international holiday celebrating GOOD news of GREAT joy for ALL people: the Savior of the WORLD who came to earth to die on a cross for all mankind and offer us the gift of eternal life. Please, don’t miss Christmas.