TChristmas Lightshe holiday season is upon us! Everyone seems to be gearing up to tackle preparations needed to make the season merry and bright. And many of these preparations are traditions that we enjoy year after year. Do you have any favorite traditions you are excited about? One of my favorites is opening up our box filled with Christmas ornaments collected over the years and our odd crew of Christmas creatures to decorate the tree and fireplace mantle, which will soon be covered in holiday cards from friends and family. These traditions make us smile and warm our soul. What happens when one finds themselves thousands of miles away during the holiday season without the ability to carry out their traditions in the same fashion. While pondering this question, I came across a newsletter entitled “Friends in Mission” from December 2000 written by a Maryknoll Lay Missioner who happened to be experiencing their first holiday season away from home. Take a moment to read their experience and enjoy this holiday season wherever you may be!

“It is truly a different experience to be so far from home during this holiday season. I feel like I am million miles away from the familiar sites and smells of Christmas time. I will truly miss the tacky plastic lawn ornaments and the mobs of people at the shopping mall. As I reflect, though, on the meaning of Christmas in a Buddhist country, I am gently reminded of all the gifts that I have already received.

I was spending a weekend in a nearby province called Kompong Thom. The local church was having a meeting of the youth in the parish and I was invited to attend. The young people were from such poor families. They worried about how their families would find rice since the recent floods have destroyed most of the crops. A few of the young people are being given the opportunity to study through the assistance of the church. They were sincerely grateful for their opportunity to study. They were filled with such hope. It was so energizing to be with them.

Life had dealt them a hard hand but they still were ready to have fun too. The topic of the meeting was gifts from God. Several of the young people spoke about returning to their villages after completing their studies. They wanted to return in order to help the people of their own villages. Being with the young people of Kompong Thom was a gift… my heart was so joyful and hopeful for the future of the Cambodian people[…]

I tutor a student in English two nights a week. His father drives a motorcycle taxi and his family’s existence is a daily struggle. He asked me to buy him some books so he could study English at home also. I returned the next time with the one book I was able to find. He said, ‘Teacher, you do so much for me. You help me study English and you buy me books. Thank you so much.’ I was so humbled by his words. I forget the grammar rules of English all the time and I do not always know the right translation for words from Khmer to English. I feel so unhelpful! His words of thanks were a gift… I realized sharing what little you have, whether it be knowledge or material things, can be more than you realize.

The gifts I have received have no monetary value and cannot be wrapped in holiday paper. The gift of life is such a precious gift. I send all my best wishes and ask God to bless each one of you this Christmas season[…] May God’s gifts bring peace and love to all peoples of the world. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!”