Christmas in Kageyo
I was not looking forward to Christmas this year. I knew it was going to be different and difficult to be so far from my family, my church, and the traditions I love. Christmastime in Rwanda looked very different. I listened to my favorite Christmas songs and sang a few hymns for my host family. I watched “White Christmas” three times. I hung a few little snowflake decorations in my room. But for the most part, life in the village was the same as it was every day. We hadn’t been reading advent lessons or singing special Christmas hymns in church. There were no twinkle lights hung up on houses and street lights. There were no Christmas Trees or stockings or Hallmark movies or Christmas radio stations.
Feeling a little blue and homesick, I headed to Kigali on Christmas Eve. Claire, the YAGM living in the capital city, had been working on the Kigali Parish’s first Christmas Eve service. Almost all the volunteers gathered in the city that night to attend church. I gallivanted around the city with Claire and Stephen all day. We splurged on gelato and had burritos for dinner. Stephen and I went to our supervisor, Janelle’s, house to help her make fresh juice and catch up before heading over to the church.
When we got to church, there were lights and trees and the choir was singing before the service began. Claire’s service of lessons and carols had readings in both English and Kinyarwanda. The adult choir sang a few songs, the children’s choir sang a song, and there was an impromptu performance of the YAGM too. There is a family from Madagascar who attends the English service in Kigali every week who shared traditional Malagasy Christmas music from their home too.
After the service, Stephen and I headed to the bus station to catch the last bus to Gicumbi. Because Stephen does not have a host family, mine graciously invited him to spend the holiday with us. When we walked into my house, there was a full spread for dinner at 11:15 pm. Pastor Caleb had the TV on where a choir was singing Christmas hymns and counting down until midnight, marking Jesus’ birth. We had just finished eating around 12:00 when this wailing baby noise came from the television, it was officially Christmas.
The next morning, we were up at heading to church at 9:30. There were a few new hymns we sang, special for Christmas. Our church baptized about 25 children and adults.Pastor invited Stephen and I to share an English song—“Angels We Have Heard on High.” Which ended up being a familiar song for many people in the congregation and they joined in for the chorus
Afterward, we had a large lunch with Pastor’s very good friends from Kigali. The day flew by. We had many visitors. We played games outside with the children. At one point, I was facetiming my family during their Christmas breakfast. Everyone in the house (even the people I hardly knew) said hello to my family in the US and I had children hanging off me trying to get a better look at the phone screen.
Later, for dinner at 8:30, we walked to our friend, Jackie’s, home. She made a delicious chicken and we all had multiple Fantas. We sang and danced and laughed more at her house before heading home. When we got home, I gave each person in my host family a small gift from the Guelzows in PA. More laughter and joy and singing after exchanging gifts, then sleep for everyone.
Christmas was different. But at the end of the day, it was still Christmas. I was celebrating with people I loved; my fellow volunteers, my friends in Kigali, my host family, my family and friends in the US. Despite cultural differences and distance, Christmas brings us all together in the memory and celebration of Jesus. When I think about all the people in the world who celebrate Christmas, it is incredible. The love of Jesus and for Jesus is international, it is in every language, and every place.