Juan Castillo

Living in a foreign country is not always easy. Especially the times when families come together and celebrate the wonderful and meaningful Christmas. As a foreigner there is a half missing in all celebrations. It would be wonderful to have family from our native countries nearby and enjoy being with them but it is not possible. There is also the new customs that one has to learn and adapt to. In fact, Christmas for foreigners can be a very sad time.

In Ecuador, the country where I was born, Christmas is a big celebration. At the beginning of December we built a nativity scene with as much detail as possible. My grandparents set a big tree in their living room and I was always excited for the gifts that baby Jesus would bring. Yes, Santa is just a Coca Cola advertisement there. Baby Jesus brings all the gifts and we have songs about it. As a pastor’s kid we spent a lot of time in church. We had an afternoon service on the 24th and a morning service on the 25th.

In Ecuador we have Christmas dinner very late in the evening and we open the gifts right at midnight with the nearby Catholic church’s bells ringing. The next day we get to use our new clothes for church and then we get to play with the new toys with all the cousins.

As we celebrate Christmas in Finland we realize that half of the family is missing. We get to wish merry Christmas through video calls. We are blessed since we have Katja’s family that comes along and we get to celebrate our Finnish Christmas in all its glory, from sauna to glögi.

But God has offered us a new family. Since the year 2015 we have welcomed in our home on December 24th some friends that have never heard of Christmas from a Christian point of view. From the land of the magi, some Iraqi friends have spent time with us at our home table.

The story of Christmas takes a new light when we sit in a multicultural table. We get to eat Finnish, Spanish, Iraqi and Ecuadorian food and our kids listen to the story of Jesus. Our Iraqi brothers become the family we all miss. Just like Jesus says in Matthew 12:50: “My mother and my brothers are those who do God’s will.” Yes, we all miss our families and traditions but the love of God is so great that we can celebrate Christmas together as the family of God regardless of our different backgrounds.

God has sent us family from Iraq to celebrate Christmas. We have some free chairs at home and we have a big need to spend Christmas with our relatives that become present through our guests from the Middle East. Christmas is not sad, neither it’s time to be sad.

We are thankful that in God’s amazing love we can learn that our family is a lot larger than what we thought. The table is served with Finnish ham, Spanish dates and bacon, Iraqi dolma and Ecuadorian chocolate. And we all celebrate the birth of our Lord.

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