Holiday Festivities

Thanksgiving . . . Advent . . . Christmas . . . New Years . . . what a busy time of year this is!

Here’s a little “picture tour” for you, featuring our holiday celebrations . . .

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This year was Caleb’s first Christmas, so that made the holidays extra special. At 5 months old he was really at a good age to enjoy it — especially the Christmas lights!

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While many of our friends and family are facing extreme cold with snow and ice right now, our days here in Africa are averaging around the mid-90’s. But even with the intense heat during the day, this IS the coldest time of the year for us in that at night it can get down to 60 degrees (or even 50 degrees in some places!). This may not sound “cold” to those of you battling temperatures below zero, but compared to the 90 – 100 degree temperatures we get during the day we really do FEEL cold when the temperatures drop to drastically.

We are in the dry season right now, the time of year when we go for months without any rain. Dry season, for us, means lots of cows, lots of flies, and LOTS of dust!

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It also means a lot of bush fires as people work at clearing all the elephant grass (thick grass that can grow 8-10 feet tall!). Nearly every night the mountainsides are lit up with these fires. It’s beautiful from a distance, but it makes everyone really nervous when they burn closer to the homes.

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The dust is a major factor during the dry season, and this year it has been even heavier than usual. The harmattan winds bring a lot of dust down from the desert regions. There are days when the dust is so thick in the air that it looks like fog and blocks the sun so much that it appears to be white and could actually  be mistaken for a full moon.

Of course, further north of us there are those who deal with intense sand storms and have it a lot worse than we do, so we’re thankful we aren’t having to deal with all of that. I’ll take the dust over the sand storms any day.

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While it may not feel like Christmas outside, we go out of our way to make it feel like Christmas inside. We light a lot of candles during the holiday season and always have Christmas music playing in the background.

One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is pulling out the Christmas decorations, hanging up the Christmas lights, and setting up our African nativity set.

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Keturah got to help me set up the nativity set this year and she had a lot of fun with that. Several times throughout the holiday season she would ask if she could “play with Jesus” so I would take down some of the nativity pieces and let her play with them on the floor.

She loved using the nativity set to act out the Christmas story. And for some reason she got it into her head that the baby Jesus was afraid of the cow, so the cow kept getting chased out of the stable and Mary would comfort the crying baby.

It was really neat to watch her play with the nativity set and to see her really engaging in the story of Jesus’ birth.

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We actually used the nativity set a lot in our advent devotions.

For advent I had Keturah help me pick some evergreen and construct a homemade advent wreath. Being 2 years old she wasn’t really able to understand all the symbolism that is tied to the advent wreath but she IS very familiar with birthdays and really understands the concept of blowing out birthday candles. So after acting out the Christmas story we would pull out our advent wreath and sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and then blow out the advent candles.

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We also made some nativity crafts . . . lots of printing, coloring, cutting, gluing, laminating, and playing! So much fun!

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One of our Christmas crafts was to make a Christmas tree out of paper chains.

It IS possible to get artificial Christmas trees in the stores here, but the trees they have for sale in town are very cheap, rather ugly, don’t stand up straight, and cost over $40!

No thank you. Our construction paper tree worked just fine for us . . . especially since we wanted the African nativity set to be our primary “eye catcher” anyway.

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We don’t have an oven in our house, so when it comes to Christmas cookies and holiday treats we tend to stick with no-bake recipes. But one thing I always bring back with us from the U.S. is Almond bark and M&Ms! That’s a special treat for us!

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There is a lot of activity in the community during the holidays. They have extra services at the church and the kids put on a simple Christmas pageant to act out the account of the Christmas story.

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Most of the men in the community look for extra work this time of year in order to have some extra spending money to lavish their families with special holiday gifts.

A lot of money is spent on buying new clothes for the children. They are very intentional about buying clothes that are a little (or even a LOT) too big for the children so that the clothes will last them a long time and have plenty of room for the kids to “grow into” them.

A lot of money is also spent buying new fabric for the women and girls so that they can each have a new dress made out of it. The tailors are kept extremely busy this time of year trying to fill all the orders for new clothes and to have them all done by the Christmas deadline.

The women also get their hair done up nice and will often use henna to decorate their hands and feet. They will make quite an occasion of it at times and really enjoy getting together for “hair and henna” parties.

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There is a lot of feasting that goes on here during the holidays. Chicken is considered to be a very festive meal and is often served in a sauce over rice or spaghetti noodles (or both!). Popcorn and shrimp puffs (or chips) are also added to the meal as a special treat.

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There is also a lot of music during the holiday season — a beautiful blend of both traditional African music and western Christmas carols.

As part of our own festivities, we joined a group of expats in our area and went Christmas caroling around the community. We had a lot of fun singing for our national friends and handing out lollipops to the community kids.

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You can’t see it very well in the picture above, but I have baby Caleb tied on my back in the traditional African style, and cute little Keturah decided that she wanted to be “just like mommy” so she went around with her baby doll tied on her back as well!

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On Christmas day we enjoyed a quiet (or not so “quiet”) morning with our kids.

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Caleb was very interested in the presents and found the colorful wrapping paper to be really fascinating.

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Most of the gifts are ones we planned ahead for and brought from the U.S. . . . toy dishes, rubber cars, coloring books, DVD’s.

It is possible to buy toys and gifts here, but most of them are very cheaply made; China imports, or the kind of quality you would expect to find at a dollar store. The toys are also rather expensive (even in spite of their cheap quality and the fact that they will most likely break after a couple days of hard play), so if we want to give the kids some nice gifts we have to plan it far in advance and either have the stuff brought over from the U.S. or make our own gifts and homemade toys.

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In the afternoon we gathered with the expats again and shared a really nice potluck dinner together.

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There was also a lot more “handing out” of candy to the community kids. Both on Christmas and on New Years all the kids in the community go around from door to door collecting candy, popcorn, and other delicious treats.

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The nationals here don’t do Christmas stockings, so going door to door is how the kids accumulate their Christmas treats.

In fact, you can’t even find Christmas stockings in any of the stores here, so this year I took that up as my holiday craft and made stockings for our family.

(and no, there’s no announcement . . . the fifth stocking is for Jesus!)

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On New Years Eve Sammy had to travel, but the rest of us “white people” got together for a little New Years Eve party.

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Our neighbors were surprised that we were starting our New Years celebrations so early. In the community they waited until sunset before beginning to beat the African drums and begin playing music over at the church and they waited until midnight and the “official start” to the New Year before the real celebrating began. So right about the time we were all heading off to bed that was when all our neighbors were just waking up to begin celebrating!

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Well, that’s about the end of our picture tour here. I hope you enjoyed it!

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Happy Holidays from our family to yours!!

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