Posts Tagged ‘Christmas stories’

The Night Before Christmas: An African Christmas Story

December 25, 2011

It was the night before Christmas in Ghana and I was very sad because my family life had been severely disrupted and I was sure that Christmas would never come. There was none of the usual joy and anticipation that I always felt during the Christmas season. I was eight years old, but in the past few months I had grown a great deal.

Before this year I thought Christmas in my Ghanaian village came with many things. Christmas had always been for me one of the joyous religious festivals. It was the time for beautiful Christmas music on the streets, on radio, on television and everywhere. Christmas had always been a religious celebration and the church started preparing way back in November. We really felt that we were preparing for the birth of the baby Jesus. Christmas was the time when relatives and friends visited each other so there were always people traveling and visiting with great joy from all the different ethnic groups. I always thought that was what Christmas was all about. Oh, how I wished I had some of the traditional food consumed at the Christmas Eve dinner and the Christmas Day dinner. I remembered the taste of rice, chicken, goat, lamb, and fruits of various kinds. The houses were always decorated with beautiful paper ornaments. The children and all the young people loved to make and decorate their homes and schools with colorful crepe paper.

All of us looked forward to the Christmas Eve Service at our church. After the service there would be a joyous possession through the streets. Everyone would be in a gala mood with local musicians in a Mardi Gras mood. Then on Christmas Day we all went back to church to read the scriptures and sing carols to remind us of the meaning of the blessed birth of the baby Jesus. We always thought that these were the things that meant Christmas. After the Christmas service young people received gifts of special chocolate, special cookies and special crackers. Young people were told that the gifts come from Father Christmas, and this always meant Christmas for us. They also received new clothes and perhaps new pairs of shoes. Meanwhile throughout the celebration everyone was greeted with the special greeting, “Afishapa,” the Akan word meaning “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” Oh how I wish that those memories were real tonight in order to bring us Christmas.

However, this Christmas Eve things were different and I knew Christmas would never come. Every one was sad and desperate because of what happened last April when the so-called Army of Liberation attacked our village and took all the young boys and girls away. Families were separated and some were murdered. We were forced to march and walk for many miles without food. We were often hungry and we were given very little food. The soldiers burned everything in our village and during our forced march we lost all sense of time and place.

Miraculously we were able to get away from the soldiers during one rainy night. After several weeks in the tropical forest we made our way back to our burned out village. Most of us were sick, exhausted, and depressed. Most of the members of our families were nowhere to be found. We had no idea what day or time it was.

This was the situation until my sick grandmother noticed the reddish and yellow flower we call “Fire on the Mountain” blooming in the middle of the marketplace where the tree had stood for generations and had bloomed for generations at Christmas time. For some reason it had survived the fire that had engulfed the marketplace. I remembered how the nectar from this beautiful flower had always attracted insects making them drowsy enough to fall to the ground to become food for crows and lizards. We were surprised that the fire that the soldiers had started to burn the marketplace and the village did not destroy the “Fire on the Mountain” tree. What a miracle it was. Grandmother told us that it was almost Christmas because the flower was blooming. As far as she could remember this only occurred at Christmas time. My spirits were lifted perhaps for a few minutes as I saw the flower. Soon I became sad again. How could Christmas come without my parents and my village?

How could this be Christmas time when we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace because since April we have not known any peace, only war and suffering. How could we celebrate as grandmother instructed us to do before she died? Those were the last words she spoke before she died last night. As I continued to think about past joyous Christmases and the present suffering, we heard the horn of a car and not just one horn but several cars approaching our village. At first we thought they were cars full of men with machine guns so we hid in the forest. To our surprise they were not soldiers and they did not have guns. They were just ordinary travelers. It seemed the bridge over the river near our village had been destroyed last April as the soldiers left our village. Since it was almost dusk and there were rumors that there were land mines on the roads, they did not want to take any chances. Their detour had led them straight to our village.

When they saw us they were shocked and horrified at the suffering and the devastation all around us. Many of these travelers began to cry. They confirmed that tonight was really Christmas Eve. All of them were on their way to their villages to celebrate Christmas with family and friends. Now circumstances had brought them to our village at this time on this night before Christmas. They shared the little food they had with us. They even helped us to build a fire in the center of the marketplace to keep us warm. In the middle of all this my oldest sister became ill and could not stand up. A short time after we returned to our village my grandmother told me that my oldest sister was expecting a baby. My sister had been in a state of shock and speechless since we all escaped from the soldiers.

I was so afraid for my sister because we did not have any medical supplies and we were not near a hospital. Some of the travelers and the villagers removed their shirts and clothes to make a bed for my sister to lie near the fire we had made. On that fateful night my sister gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. This called for a celebration, war or no war. Africans have to dance and we celebrated until the rooster crowed at 6 a.m. We sang Christmas songs. Every one sang in his or her own language. For the first time all the pain and agony of the past few months went away. When morning finally came my sister was asked, “What are you going to name the baby?” Would you believe for the first time since our village was burned and all the young girls and boys were taken away, she spoke. She said, “His name is “Gye Nyame,” which means “Except God I fear none.””

And so we celebrated Christmas that night. Christmas really did come to our village that night, but it did not come in the cars or with the travelers. It came in the birth of my nephew in the midst of our suffering. We saw hope in what this little child could do. This birth turned out to be the universal story of how bad things turned into universal hope, the hope we found in the Baby Jesus. A miracle occurred that night before Christmas and all of a sudden I knew we were not alone any more. Now I knew there was hope and I had learned that Christmas comes in spite of all circumstances. Christmas is always within us all. Christmas came even to our Ghanaian village that night.

Posted by Rev Peter E Adotey Addo on African Proverbs, Sayings and Stories.

I am indebted to Virginia McKenna who read three African Christmas storoes for telling me where these stories could be found.

- An African Christmas

Synchronicity: A few days ago, only a few nights before Christmas, I met two very atractive girls on a train, twins, both were from Ghana. I learnt they lived around the corner from me.

A Christmas tale

December 24, 2011
troubadour

troubadour

A medieval legend tells us that in the country we know today as Austria the Burkhard family – a man, a woman and a child – used to amuse people at Christmas parties by reciting poetry, singing ancient troubadour ballads, and juggling. Of course, there was never any money left over to buy presents, but the man always told his son:

“Do you know why Santa Claus’s bag never gets empty, although there are so many children in the world? Because it may be full of toys, but sometimes there are more important things to be delivered, what we call “invisible gifts”. In a broken home, he tries to bring harmony and peace on the holiest night in Christianity. Where love is lacking, he deposits a seed of faith in children’s hearts. Where the future seems black and uncertain, he brings hope. In our case, the day after Father Christmas comes to visit us, we are happy to be still alive and doing our work, which is to make people happy. Never forget that.”

Time passed, the boy grew up, and one day the family passed in front of the impressive Melk Abbey, which had just been built. The young Burkhard wanted to become a priest. The family understood and respected the boy’s wish. They knocked at the door of the monastery and were given generous welcome by the monks, who accepted the young Buckhard as a novice.

Christmas Eve came around. And precisely on that day, a special miracle happened in Melk: Our Lady, carrying the baby Jesus in her arms, decided to descend to Earth to visit the monastery.

All the priests lined up and each of them stood proudly before the Virgin trying to pay homage to the Madonna and her Son.

At the very end of the line, young Buckhard anxiously waited his turn. His parents were simple people, and all that they had taught him was to toss balls up in the air and do some juggling.

When it came his turn, the other priests wanted to put an end to all the homage that had been paid, since the ex-juggler had nothing important to add and might even mar the image of the abbey.

Nevertheless, deep in his heart he also felt a great need to give something of himself to Jesus and the Virgin. Feeling very ashamed before the reproachful gaze of his brothers, he took some oranges from his pocket and began to toss them in the air and catch them in his hands, creating a beautiful circle in the air.

At that instant, the baby Jesus, lying in Our Lady’s lap, began to clap his hands with joy. And it was to young Buckhard that the Virgin held out her arms to let him hold the smiling child for a few moments.

Posted by Paulo Coelho on his blog, based on a medieval story.

In Istanbul, courtesy of Paulo Coelho, I met Abbot Burkhard of Melk Abbey, a Benedictine Order in Austria.

The Parable of the Person Who Couldn’t Find God

December 21, 2011

Once upon a time a certain East African country had many mountains and valleys, rivers and plains. All the people lived in one big valley. The large extended families included grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and many children. These East African people were ordinary human beings with both good and bad qualities. They followed all the seasons of human life:

A time for giving birth … a time for dying.

A time for planting … a time for uprooting.

A time for knocking down … a time for building.

A time for tears … a time for laughter.

A time for mourning … a time for dancing.

A time for loving … a time for hating.

A time for war … a time for peace.

A man named John Shayo lived in this large valley. He was a faithful Christian who prayed every Sunday and regularly participated in his Amani Small Christian Community. He helped the poor and needy especially the lepers who lived on one slope. John tried to fulfill all his Christian responsibilities. From time to time he failed, but in general he was a very good Christian.

In this large valley there was jealousy, fighting, drunkenness and all kinds of discord. Thieves and tricksters walked about openly and regularly stole cows, goats and sheep. Families and villages lacked peace and harmony. Witchcraft and superstition were part of daily life. After patiently enduring this bad situation for a long time John Shayo decided to move somewhere else. He said, “Certainly God isn’t present here. He is the “All Peaceful One” who doesn’t like fighting and discord. He wants peace and harmonious relationships in his human family.”

John Shayo saw a very high mountain far in the distance. It rose majestically in the clear tropical air. John said, “Certainly God our “Great Ancestor” lives in peace and quiet on the top of that East African mountain. I will go there to find God who “Dwells on High With the Spirits of the Great.” So John set off on his long safari. At the end of the first day he reached the foot of this high mountain. The burning equatorial sun had drained his energy. He rested. Very early the next morning he started out again. After three hours of difficult climbing he was tired and sat by the side of the rough footpath.

After a few minutes John was startled to see a bearded man about 30-years-old making his way down the mountain. They greeted each other. “Jambo (‘Hello’). What is the news?” John told the traveler that he was climbing to the top of the mountain to find God our “Creator and Source.” The traveler said that his name was Emmanuel and that he was climbing down the mountain to live with the people in the large valley. After talking together for a few minutes they said good-bye to each other in the traditional African farewell: “Good-bye until we meet again.” As John continued his safari up the steep mountain he said to himself: “That man is a fine person. He is very intelligent and speaks well. I wonder why he wants to go down to my former valley?”

Soon John Shayo was engrossed in his arduous climb. The air grew thinner. He climbed more slowly. By late afternoon he reached the top of the mountain and said to himself: “There is peace and quiet here. Now I will surely find God.” He looked everywhere. No one was around. John was very disappointed and asked out loud, “Where is God?”

Suddenly a gaunt old man appeared and greeted John. “Welcome. Relax after your long, hard safari.” Shayo began to describe the arduous trip and his desire to meet God the “All Peaceful One.” The old man said, “I’m sorry, but God isn’t here on the top of this high mountain. I live alone here. Surely you met God on the mountain path. He was going down to the big valley to live with the people there and to help them with their problems and difficulties.” John was astonished and exclaimed out loud, “You mean the traveler I met on the path was God. I didn’t recognize him. I thought that I would find him here on the top of the mountain.”

The old man said, “I’m sorry. You see God doesn’t want to live here all by himself. He wants to join with the human beings he created. That’s the meaning of his name “Emmanuel. God is with us.” John Shayo exclaimed: “But in the valley there are arguments and fighting. Many of the people are thieves, tricksters, troublemakers and drunkards. Why does God want to live with them?”

Quietly the old man answered, “God knows the lives of his people and their problems and weaknesses. There is a myth about an East African hunter who disobeyed God’s command and shot an arrow into the clouds. The sky bled and God withdrew into the high heavens to get away from human beings. But God the “Great Elder” loved his human family and wanted to show his tender care. So God our “Great Chief” sent his Son to pitch his tent among us, to live with us, to share our joys and sorrows, our successes and failures, our strengths and weaknesses in order to save us. We celebrate this mystery of salvation on the feast of Christmas — the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ our “Eldest Brother.” For this is how God loved the world: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

John Shayo was deeply moved by these words and listened intently as the old man continued. “Jesus Christ — Emmanuel” was born and lived among us human beings as an ordinary person. He surrounded himself with simple, needy people just like the farmers and herders in the villages of your valley. He helped the people with their daily problems. This is the meaning and mystery of Christmas — we learn to live like Jesus, Emmanuel our God and a person for others.

“John, from time to time you can come to this mountain top to rest and pray, but know, my friend, that the heart of Christmas is to live with the people in the valley and share their daily problems and difficulties.”

John suddenly felt that he had learned much wisdom on this East African mountaintop. Deeply touched he said, “I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided to go back to the large valley and live with the people as Jesus Christ Himself does.” The wise old man put his hands on John’s head and gave him a blessing.

John Shayo turned slowly. Seeing the large valley stretched out below him, John began to walk down the mountain.”

A short story by Rev. Joseph Healey posted on African Proverbs, Stories and Sayings:

This story was originally “created” out of discussions with the Christians in Iramba Parish, Musoma Diocese, Tanzania on how to communicate the joyful and saving message of Christmas in a fresh and African way.

The third of three African stories read by Virginia McKenna at An African Christmas with the Occam Singers at St Nicolas Church.

I am indebted to Virginia McKenna for introducing me to this wonderful Christmas story and for telling me where it and and many other wonderful African stories are to be found on the net.

- An African Christmas
Love Wins
Like the Flowing River
The Fifth Mountain

Parable of What Language Does God Speak?

December 12, 2011

Once upon a time there was a man in the Serengeti District of western Tanzania called Marwa. In the sixth grade he studied the Christian religion. At Baptism he chose the name Emmanuel which means “God is with us.” After finishing high school Emmanuel read magazines and books about God. He believed that God is truly present among us, but he asked: “What language does God speak?”

Emmanuel posed his special question to different church leaders in his village. The old catechist answered. “I think that God speaks Latin.” The chairperson of the parish council guessed, “God speaks our local language Ngoreme.” But the searching youth Emmanuel had doubts. “When I get the right answer,” he said to himself, “I’ll know immediately and feel great joy.” So the young African set off on a journey. In the neighboring parish he asked again: “What language does God speak?” One Christian suggested Kuria, another local language.

Again Emmanuel had doubts. He began to travel across the whole of Tanzania visiting small towns and big cities. In one place the Christians were certain that God spoke Swahili. People in western Tanzania said Sukuma while residents in the northeast said Chagga. Emmanuel was not satisfied with these answers. Remembering the African saying — “traveling is learning” — he journeyed outside Tanzania. The Kenyans said Kikuyu and the people of Uganda answered, “God speaks Ganda.” In West Africa he got different replies: Lingala in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Hausa in Nigeria and Arabic in Morocco.

He decided to travel the whole world if necessary. Passing through Europe he was told “French, German and Italian.” The Christians of North America said “English” while South Americans replied, “Spanish.” In his heart the young Tanzanian knew that these answers were inadequate. Determined to find the real truth he went to China where the local people insisted that God speaks Mandarin or Cantonese. Emmanuel was tired from his long travels but he resolutely pushed on. In India he was told Hindi. He reached Israel late in December. The local inhabitants said, “Surely God speaks Hebrew.”

Exhausted by his long travels and the unsatisfactory answers, Emmanuel entered the town of Bethlehem. The local hotels were filled. He looked everywhere for a place to stay. Nothing was available. In the early morning hours he came to a cave where cows and sheep were sheltered. He was surprised to see a young woman with her newborn baby.

This young mother said to the traveling youth, “Welcome, Emmanuel, you are very welcome.” Astonished to hear his name, the young African listened in awe as the woman called Mary continued: “For a very long time you have traveled around the world to find out what language God speaks. Your long journey is over. God speaks the language of love. God loved the world so much that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Overjoyed to hear these words of Mary the young Tanzanian understood Gods language of love for all people, for all races, for all nations. Emmanuel exclaimed, “Truly, today God is with us.””

A short story by Rev. Joseph Healey posted on African Proverbs, Stories and Sayings: Many stories just “happen.” One Advent in Iramba Parish in Musoma Diocese, Tanzania we decided to create an original story for the Christmas homily. Congregations on big celebrations such as Christmas and Easter are very large, mixed groups. Many of these people only come to church on the biggest feasts of the year. A didactic homily or sermon may not communicate well, but a story always will. This particular parable came from asking Christians in Iramba Parish the provocative question: “What language does God speak?” Their answers and the accompanying discussions became the basis for creating this African Christmas parable. It uses different means of social communication such as African languages and African sayings.

The second of three African stories read by Virginia McKenna at An African Christmas with the Occam Singers at St Nicolas Church.

I am indebted to Virginia McKenna for introducing me to this wonderful Christmas story and for telling me where it and and many other wonderful African stories are to be found on the net.

- An African Christmas
Love Wins


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