The sounds of Christmas: “Chestnuts roasting” and a “Sleigh Ride” with “Jingle Bells” through a “Winter Wonderland” reassure us “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays.” Our first Christmas in Japan was definitely not the “Tender Tennessee Christmas” we grew up with or even the “White Christmas” we often dreamed of in Virginia, but it certainly was “A Christmas to Remember”!
We arrived in Tokyo on the last day of November 2018. Our extended families adjusted their calendars to celebrate with us before our departure, so the timeless traditions and treasured moments with loved ones were in the rearview mirror as we arrived in our new home. In our first days here, as we battled jet-lag, illness and injury, and processed all the excitement and upheaval, the prospect of Christmas on a new continent seemed to lose a little luster.
Yet, some rich experiences and pleasant surprises were waiting just around the corner…
Not too many days later, our teammates, the Hubbards, sent us home with a big Christmas tree passed along by previous missionaries and waiting just for us! Far from family, we were surrounded by teammates and new friends! Churches in America sent gifts that blessed and encouraged us. We decorated the new Hope Alive facility for its first Christmas, too!
One of the most amazing memories of our first Christmas in Japan was the privilege of sharing the story of Jesus’ birth at our Hope Alive Bible studies. The words of Matthew and Luke, such a part of our family traditions, reached many ears for the first time!
Christmas in Japan means fried chicken (preferably from KFC) and Christmas cake. (No, that’s not a joke. It’s the true seasonal staple!) Lights, and sometimes even Christmas trees, fill store windows. A wide variety of seasonal tunes fill the air. But something is missing. It’s a Christ-less Christmas. So many still don’t know Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. This year, we celebrate our first Christmas as a church family, along with some new brothers and sisters!
We may have had to exchange eggnog for green tea, but we have gained experiences that have enhanced our understanding of Christmas:
- As one of our trainers told his kids, ours have now seen that “Home is where our family is,” no matter where that may be.
- Like Joseph and Mary, we travelled far from home, anticipating a joyous birth! (in our case, a new church)
- Like baby Jesus, we arrived totally helpless, dependent on our missionary family to translate and navigate!
- Jesus left family and the comforts and joys of home to come to a new, strange place to welcome us to the party!
- What we celebrate is far more important than where we celebrate it.
How awesome that our first Christmas in Japan is just a little bit like that first Christmas! We wouldn’t trade it!