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Seeing Christmas with New Eyes

A Letter from Jonathan and Emily Seitz, serving in Taiwan

November 2017

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One day early in December during our first year in Taiwan, I was waiting in line with tears in my eyes in a coffee shop that was one of the only public places I had seen decorated for Christmas. It would be the first time in my life I would be away from my family on Christmas. Although I had lived away from my family for many years—New Jersey had been our home when Jonathan and I were in graduate school—we always managed to make the trip back to Ohio for Christmas. Yes, it was sentimental and silly to be brought to tears by Christmas decorations. However, it was also difficult to be thousands of miles from my family of origin, having just started a family of my own—our eldest son was just a toddler when we moved to Taiwan—and in a new place where I still barely could speak the language that most of the people around me spoke fluently. I was excited about our unfolding life in Taiwan and knew that God had much in store for us, but everything was still very new. Christmas is often a struggle for many people even in places familiar to them, as the lived reality may not match the idealized versions of those same holidays we carry with us in our minds, or the sparkle and shine on the outside.

Eva, ready to go onstage with her classmates at Xin Guang Kindergarten.

In the weeks before our first Christmas in Taiwan, I remember hosting the children of students and faculty of Taiwan Theological Seminary to decorate Christmas cookies at our home, trying to bring a bit of the Christmas traditions of my childhood to Taiwan. I also remember groups of students touring the campus, stopping in at faculty homes, including ours, to sing Christmas carols. I loved this tradition of welcoming the students into our home, singing together, and then sharing treats with them afterward, and this tradition carried on for several years. It reminded me of caroling with my family or church groups in the U.S. Our second Christmas in Taiwan, my mother was with us. She and my father had come to help out after I gave birth to twins (in late October), and she stayed for three months. My memories of that Christmas are quite fuzzy, given my sleepless state. I do remember that we had Christmas Eve lunch at an Italian restaurant and that it felt strange to be eating out. We had always eaten a large meal at home, but we were all too exhausted to cook!

Despite being able to continue some of the Christmas traditions/rituals of my childhood over the years while living in Taiwan, Christmas here is often different from what I imagine it should be. As a child, I believed I would always live in Ohio and celebrate Christmas with my family. Therefore, I have had to adjust my thinking and expectations surrounding Christmas. For example, I never imagined that my own children would have school scheduled on Christmas and I would have to decide whether to have them miss school or go a half day. I never imagined I would be invited to a Christmas holiday party at my children’s school where children would show up wearing Halloween costumes. On the other hand, I also never imagined my children would be baptized in a Taiwanese church. And, in fact, our twins were baptized on Christmas Day—a Sunday in 2011—during a large baptism service at a large Presbyterian church in Taipei along with about 20 other children, including many other babies.

A couple of years ago before Christmas, my best Taiwanese friend remarked that she thought Christmas was a day to have a party with your friends. I said, yes, of course, but not just a party. I shared with this non-Christian friend the joy of Christ’s birth and the period of expectant waiting—Advent—leading up to it. Recently, her son, who is my older son’s best friend, asked us questions about Christianity; he is curious about our faith and wants to learn more. We described the Trinity and discussed our major holidays, including Christmas. When he asked about why we go to church, we said that for many people the church can be like another family or home. My hope is that the church too can be a welcoming place, a haven … especially at Christmas, because for many people, it is a very difficult time. In the month before I gave birth to our twins, I was somewhat immobile and therefore unable to attend church every Sunday. I was so very moved when about 10 members of a small urban aboriginal church we had been attending came up the mountain to the seminary campus to sing and pray with us in our home. It was an unexpected blessing and helped me to feel God’s love surrounding and supporting me as I prepared for the birth.

My expectations of Christmas are now less tied to my childhood Christmases, and I pray that I will continue to see Christmas with new eyes. Will I bake Christmas cookies? Maybe or maybe not, but it has become less important to me. The past few years, when our twins attended a Catholic preschool/kindergarten, the school always had a huge Christmas celebration (although still no days off for the Christmas holidays). But, this year, the twins, now in first grade, are in a public school and Christmas is on a Monday. On Monday mornings, I read for my daughter’s class, and when thinking about whether to have our kids attend school on Christmas this year, I thought: “What better way to celebrate than to share a Christmas story with the children that day and bring some small gifts to share?” I will also bring some treats to share with the other moms I work with in the school library and the other “story moms” who read in the classrooms. In this way, I hope to prepare my heart for a Christmas of welcoming, sharing, and belonging.

As always, we thank you for your prayers and financial support and invite you to consider supporting us if you have not already done so.

Dear Lord:
Thank you for sending your son, Jesus, to live among us, and to teach us a better way. Let there always be room at the Inn, and may there be room in our hearts for Him. Help us to welcome people to meet Him and share in God’s abiding love and grace.

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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