Merry fall, y’all.
Christmas starts early in the Dominican Republic. That doesn’t mean I’m a disgruntled traditionalist who boycotts Christmas music until Santa ushers in the season from atop his sleigh at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. No, a friend of mine shared a photo of candy canes in her local supermarket to her Instagram Story on July 21.
In the spirit of cultural adaptation, if you’re reading this, my decorations have been up for weeks. (To be fair, I put them up preemptively in advance of a 3½ week work trip that has me getting home in the thick of the most wonderful time of the year.) Out of a plastic tub came a “FELIZ NAVIDAD” wall hanging, a handmade calabash nativity, a paper star I bought at a Christmas market while attending a conference in Germany, a snowman pillowcase I brought from the United States because it was small and squishable, and the best pine-scented candle I could find because balsam firs don’t exactly thrive in the tropics.
So … no tree? Wrong. I have an “all-occasion tree.” It’s white and sparkly, crafted in the typical charamico style. It doesn’t break into sections or have color-coded branches that pop out and fold up neatly when de-fluffed, so it adorns the corner of my living room year-round. Its branches have hitherto borne construction paper hearts for Valentine’s Day, shimmering green garland for St. Patrick’s Day, paper mâché Easter eggs and (borrowed) ovoid lights, seashells with loops of twine hot-glued to their backs, and multicolored stars-turned-missionary-kid-masterpieces in marker and glitter glue.
There Is a Season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
My family thinks it looks dead or like something they could make from objects found in the backyard, but it reminds me that Christmas—and Christ—isn’t just for December 25 but for all seasons. And let me tell you about seasons: missionary life is full of them. Summer. Late summer (aka visions of pumpkin spice dancing in your head while it’s still so humid you’re taking two showers a day). Something resembling winter during which it’s possible to wear socks and sleep without air conditioning. Early summer. Avocado season. Mango season. Baseball season. Rainy season. Dry season. Seasons of traveling so often your suitcase basically becomes a piece of furniture. Seasons of watching so many of your friends repatriate you wonder when the bleeding will stop. Seasons of God sending so many workers into the harvest field you wonder how they’re ever all going to find suitable housing.
Seasons of looking on with pride at maturing sister church bodies, and seasons of teaching first-generation Lutherans how to be the church. I was appalled my first Christmas in the field when there not only wasn’t a candlelight service on Christmas Eve at my church but wasn’t a service on Christmas Eve. Even Christmas Day services were a rarity, not a cherished tradition. Christmas in the Dominican is synonymous with family, tenured colleagues explained; no one would come. Little by little—in 2023, all but one of our congregations held worship Christmas morning—the Word made flesh is an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of gathering as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Christ, who came as a babe in Bethlehem but whose birth we celebrate as we receive Him in the Eucharist weekly and in the inspired words of Scripture daily, as we keep our spiritual lamps lit, ever awake to welcome Him in glory “soon” (e.g., Romans 16:20). Christ, whose name is on our lips “in season and out of season” as we “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching,” (2 Timothy 4:2). Christ, who promises us and all the faithful a place in heaven, beneath the branches of “the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month” (Revelation 22:2)—each season.
Now that’s an all-occasion tree. My pitiful-by-comparison version is currently sporting your typical yuletide regalia: a tree skirt, colored twinkle lights, a star I made from driftwood, shiny baubles. I’ll pack it all away after Epiphany, but as the seasons—meteorological, in the Church Year, and in the ups and downs of this living abroad gig—march onward, may we be ever mindful of the Savior who was, who is, and who is to come.
Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa examines the Three Estates and vocation to help you see how to take up God’s greatest call: showcasing God’s light through you and into the world.