Christmas in Malawi (Part 1): What Makes Christmas?

The Advent Season is essential to the Christian Faith. It is the time that we prepare for the celebration of Christmas. Candles are lit, the birth narrative told and carols start leaking into Sunday morning services. Not here.

Don’t get me wrong—Christmas is celebrated in Malawi, but Advent is an invention of the western church. There are many things from the Scottish and Dutch Reformed traditions that have seeped into the every day life of the church here, but beginning to celebrate the birth of Christ four weeks before Christmas is not one of them.

I preached a few weeks ago in a bilingual service and, through a translator, tried to explain the concept of Advent. The only problem was, there was no Chichewa word for the concept. The translator understood what I was saying but was dumbfounded on how to explain it to those that didn’t understand English.

We were prepared to have a different sort of Christmas here, but there are just some things you would never think a Christian church, no matter where it is, would look past. It has opened my eyes to the human tradition we tend to tag on to our belief systems.

Do I miss Advent? Sure. Are Hailey and I missing out on many pre-Christmas traditions that we are used to? Yes. Is it hard? Of course.

Being here, at this time, has forced us to think about the essentials of Christmas. Can Christmas exist without real trees, Christmas card circulation, Starbucks seasonal red cups, frequent mall visits or nightly re-runs of our favorite holiday movies? Yes, it can. Much of the world’s population doesn’t even connect those things to Christmas.

What is essential to Christmas? What makes Christmas for you?