92: Christmas Comes Everywhere

92: Christmas Comes Everywhere

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Christmas Comes Everywhere

Mankind is a great, an immense family. This is proved by what we feel in our hearts at Christmas.

~Pope John XXIII

A week before Christmas we put up the tree, hung decorations and wrapped gifts. On the coffee table the nativity scene included camels and sheep, donkeys and cows, shepherds and the holy family, some worked in wood and others made of sisal. After supper we sang carols by candlelight. And we dreamed of our loved ones, imagined driving up to my parents’ house in snowy Ontario, walking up the driveway with snow crunching underfoot and knocking on their door. They would appear with open arms to envelop us with joy and love.

But when the Christmas break began we packed up our sleeping bags and drove to a tented camp many hours north of the house where we were living in Nairobi. No snow, just sand and savannah scrub in a game reserve. We would spend part of our holiday with giraffes and zebras. We would cook on a camp stove and sing carols while sitting around a campfire. We would try very hard not to be sad that we were so far from our home in Canada.

Kenya is a beautiful country. But at Christmastime we longed for fat flakes of snow, rosy cheeks, warm scarves and snowmen. We pictured my parents’ tree decorated with decades-old ornaments and remembered the presents that once spread across their living room floor. As we sat in the dark in our canvas safari chairs with our young daughters we sang “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” but the only snow at the Equator was at the top of Mount Kenya.

The camp was comfortable; we had permanent tents with real beds and mattresses, not our usual foam on the ground. We cooked in the dining pavilion under a grass roof that would protect us if it rained. The rainy season had missed this area so the land was dry, cracked and dun-coloured, vegetation dust-covered and stream beds exposed.

But the nights were cool and the sky so clear we could see an astounding number of stars. At dusk a very bright planet, Venus, rose above the pale blue line along the horizon. Our older daughter wondered if this was the starry light that the shepherds and wise men saw so long ago near another desert. So we sang again “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and felt closer to the reality of what it must have been like on that first Christmas where there was no snow.

Morning was hazy with soft light filtering through the branches of the flat-topped acacia trees. Out of the mist stepped a man with a spear, our guide who would escort us on a game walk. We hiked around thorny bushes, avoided tufts of spiky grass and kept an eye out for snakes. The guide silently pointed when he spotted animals. Herds of impala kept their distance, periodically moving in unison as we approached. We startled a thin jackal that scrambled away. A towering giraffe loped off to join its companions.

When the sun grew hot we made our way back to the camp. The children were disgruntled because of thirst, heat and fatigue. Just then, as we crossed a dirt track, we spotted the shimmering mirage of approaching figures. As they drew closer we made out a herd of camels strutting along with their regal snouts held high. Behind the herd a young man led a donkey that carried a woman sitting side-saddle. A cotton veil was draped over the woman’s head and shoulders as protection from the sun. Running along beside the donkey was a small, curly-haired boy, a tan-coloured cloth wrapped around his lean body. The procession moved slowly, looking straight ahead as though we were not there. In silence we watched their retreat, their transformation back to shimmering mirage, lost in our own thoughts.

Our younger daughter broke the spell. “Christmas is here!” she announced. “We saw Christmas right here.”

Smiles now replaced long faces.

Into our day had somehow appeared a tableau of the scene repeated in thousands of greeting cards and window displays and church altars, a simple spontaneous reminder that Christmas was special no matter where we celebrated its ancient rituals. Our spirits lifted and we sang with vigour as we tramped back to our campsite.

~Tanya Ambrose

Mallorytown, Ontario

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