In addition to my rumination of the spirit of Christmas (and, by the way, that is also the subject of Anna Quindlen's editorial in this week's Newsweek--although she writes far better than I), I have been recalling memories of some of the unusual Christmas celebrations I experienced as a child.
Since Zambia and Zimbabwe, where I grew up, are in the southern hemisphere, Christmas occurs in the middle of summer. So, some of my memories are intertwined with summer activities. For example, there was one Christmas in Zimbabwe where all the missionaries on the mission station where my family lived decided to hold a Christmas picnic. In fact, it may be that missionaries from nearby missions also joined in, as I remember a great many more people at this picnic than would have been on the mission where I lived.
We all set off for this picnic some miles from the mission compound. To get there, we crossed over and back again a dry river bed. Since it was dry, crossing it posed no problem at all. However, during the picnic we experienced the kind of torrential rain that was characteristic of the rainy season. It poured. And, as a consequence, the dry river bed became a raging river. What had been a dry river bed now was twenty or more feet across, and unknown depth, of roiling rushing water. We were victims of the flash flooding that follows torrential rain.
As the picnic drew to a close, the problem became how to get back to the mission. One of the missionary men hiked back. Remember, we crossed the river bed twice, so our picnic location was on the same side of the river as the mission. Since we had driven to the picnic in a series of VW buses and similar vehicles, the height of any vehicle was not enough to clear the water. Also with the engines in the rear of these vehicles, they tended to flood more easily. So the plan was the missionary who hiked back would return with a tractor and a flat bed trailer.
We all piled on the flat bed trailer, and were basically floated across the river. Then the tractor hitched VW buses one at a time and towed them across. No doubt I don't recall all the details quite as precisely as the event, but perhaps my dad (who reads this) can amend any glaring mis-statements. Even if the details are a little fuzzy, the memory is quite vivid.
Several other memories are also vivid, though not so dramatic. I remember the all-city worship service that would be held in Bulawayo on an open-air athletic field. Assembled choirs and school choruses, as well as towns people, would gather. We sang many Christmas carols, some familiar to an American audience, some not. I can still sing "See Amid the Winter's Snow" (a wonderful English carol) and "Once in Royal David's City." And, of course we sang "Good King Wenceslas" with the men singing the king's lines, boys singing the page's lines, and all voices singing the narrative.
Another Christmas memory is of caroling early Christmas morning. Various missionaries would gather, and off we would go, caroling. I don't remember to whom we sang if we were all singing. But I do remember that we sang, somewhat sadistically, "Christians, Awake Salute the Happy Morn." At the time, I thought it wonderfully ironic that we might actually be waking some people as we sang "Christians, Awake!"
Finally, I remember that when all the missionaries would gather, I and some of the other children would get together and concoct some kind of play. We would write the lines, cast the parts, and rehearse. Then, of course, we would perform the plays for all the missionaries. I have absolutely no recollection as to what the plays were about, other than (I trust) a Christmas theme. I just remember how much fun it was to perform.