June '09 - We had one 20 foot shipping container in which to stuff our furniture, clothes, pantry and other treasured possessions. We sold most of our possessions just to fit the most important things into our container. Our packing friends were coming in 20 minutes and we still had not made our way into the attic to pull out the 4 extra large storage bins of Christmas ornaments, trinkets and treasures. No longer able to delay, we sat down and tried to think logically about very sentimental traditions. I didn't want to spend our holidays hanging snowmen everywhere, lamenting over Christmas past. Frosty wouldn't be coming to Hawai'i. We also had come to realize how unnecessary all of our decorations were and how distracting they had become. So, we left alot of our traditions in the attic, along with the Christmas tree. There was simply no room, not in the container and not in our tiny house without a basement or attic (we are all pretty violently allergic to cut evergreens). We decided to plan on getting a palm tree instead.
Last Christmas - We opened the one average size bin of Christmas treasures, we discovered that we had left some important things behind. The stockings...two boxes of ornaments...our candle nativity...our wooden nativitity...and regardless of what anyone said, we all missed our tree. We tried to make the best of it. We tried to tell ourselves that we weren't as sad as we really were but the reality was that we were heartbroken. The children had been given ornaments each year, with their name and date proudly written on each one. When it became obvious that we couldn't hang their ornaments, the children never complained (which made it worse). We discovered that palm trees, though fast becoming a favorite species of mine, are unaffordable and not nearly as practical for hanging ornaments. We bought a Charlie Brown Norfolk pine and discovered that, while fulfilling a need for greenery, their branches are useless for hanging ornaments. We made the best of our Christmas last year, missing family, missing friends, missing our own traditions. On December 26th, I turned the house as quickly back to normal as possible so that I could forget how painful it had been. I knew that God had called us here to Hawai'i, but did it have to feel so foreign, so different from all that we had known before?
This year, we bought a tree, fully lit and tall enough to reach the beams in our little house. We played music and the children hung all of their ornaments on the tree, and none of the branches wilted. For the first time in all of our Christmases, I did not have to secretly rearrange their ornaments to make them look better. The very first ornaments I was given, made by my brother David's fiance in 1987, now graced our Hawai'i home. Each of the children's kindergarten pictures, stars and yes, snowmen were proudly hung with care. During my visit back to the mainland in June, I canvased the attic for the missing stockings, my quilted tree skirt, our wooden nativity from Israel and even the nativity windmill from Holland. (I ended up not being able to fit it in my bag so I asked, okay forced, Laura to carry it on her way home. She said the pilot had to put it next to him because there was no room on the plane. How appropriate.) Nonetheless, these treasures donned our home this year. The stockings were hung on the bookcase with care. The shutters were dressed in leis and the train made its way proudly around our brightly lit tree. It felt like Christmas.
As I contemplated my own heart and expectations of Christmas, I thought alot about how it must have felt for the Hawaiians of old to embrace the dramatic changes in their culture. In the early 1800's, when missionaries shared the good news of Jesus' birth, life and resurrection with them, the Hawaiians believed quickly and embraced their new faith whole heartedly. How incredible it must have been for them to literally be living in a stone age culture, with no metal tools or objects whatsoever, and suddenly encounter modern Western culture. So eager were the Hawaiians to show their acceptance of modernity, that Iolani Palace, the home of Hawai'i's monarchy, had electricity before the White House. The capacity of the Hawaiian people to adapt to a new culture was astounding. But many have come to question the amount of cultural changes that were made. It was the custom of the time among Western missionaries to encourage the growth of Western culture in the new converts to the faith. When the Hawaiians wanted to know how to be like these wonderful missionaries, they were encouraged to dress like Westerners and to put aside their hula and other traditions. The Hawaiian culture changed so much that by the time of Hawai'i's annexation to the U.S. in 1895, it had become forbidden to speak the Hawaiian languge. Many portraits of the monarchy of that time offer few visible signs of Hawaiian culture.
Thankfully, it is no longer forbidden to speak Hawaiian and it is no longer taboo to dance hula. In fact, many churches sing hymns in Hawaiian. Our own church sang one of the verses to Silent Night in this beautiful language. Many churches celebrate and illustrate stories and songs with hula. Thankfully, it is no longer required of Hawaiians to choose between the culture and traditions that represent who they really are as a people, and their faith in the One who came to redeem them. Having lost a tiny bit of my own culture in coming here, I have a better understanding of the pain it must have caused my Hawaiian brothers and sisters in the faith. My prayer and hope for this tiny island in the middle of the Pacific is that its people will continue to understand ways that God has revealed Himself to them in their culture and their history so that they may proclaim His goodness to their children and their children's children. That would be Christmas everyday.
"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever..." Deuteronomy 29:29