Three years ago, I wrote this blog. Sitting here with my tree in my heated home, on a road made of tarmac, with no fear of the electricity cutting out or the lack of water it made me remember how much we have. It made me remember how much difference a shoebox makes to many lives. I remember giving out those boxes, snatching hands desperate to grab a box and rip it open, big eyes filled with wonder spreading down into the most beautiful smiles, peering eyes to see what their friend had in theirs.
So, if you have filled a shoebox and sent it away I wanted to thank you, it is not just some token thing that you do at Christmas. It is not just a goodwill to calm your conscience. It speaks of being important to someone in the world, it speaks of being cared for, possibilities and hopes and so from all the children who think they are forgotten and your gift has told them they matter, thank you.
Christmas day is very different year. As the country was the first to declare itself “Atheist”, the governance may have changed but the traditions have not, so Christmas is not celebrated but instead the focus is on the New Year (Viti i Ri). It makes things interesting, we don’t have a Christmas tree, we have a New Year tree. We don’t have Christmas lights, we have New Year lights. The workmen arrived to work on the drive at 8.15am unaware of the excited children inside who had been up for three hours and had long since scattered paper all over the lounge, scrambling to discover the wonder of the present inside. Everyone goes about life just as normal and if you ask when Christmas is, some random guess is made, often getting December but no real idea on the date. So Christmas is different.
We had the pure pleasure of going to the Christmas churches celebration where the Churches of Durres gathered together at the Sports Hall and worshipped the Saviour for whom the day is all about. It was great to see over 500 people worshipping, reflecting and celebrating.
As we went back home two of the boys came over, intrigued by what we did on Christmas day. Our kids wanted to get out their gifts to show them but we couldn’t let them. Already our kids have so many more toys than anyone else… possibly than everyone else on the road combined! By English standards they don’t have that much!!!! So we let them get one thing out each to play with whilst their friends were there. We had a great chat together about what we do at Christmas and why and asked them about their New Year traditions. As part of this I asked when Babagjyshi comes (Santa Claus), they looked at each other and laughed. “He doesn’t come here”. I was suprised and said I thought he came at New Year with a gift, “no” they said “he doesn’t come here, he must have forgotten us.” At that point my heart broke, whilst thanking God for the blessing (including material ones) that our family enjoys.
My dream this year is that we can find a way for Babagyshi to visit but more importantly that the real gift of Christmas, Jesus may be discovered amongst the celebrations.