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Celebrating Christmas in Unity and Diversity

by Rev. Rosario Ibarra

     The point of arrival for immigrants eager to achieve the American dream while enjoying near-perfect weather, Southern California is one of the most diverse places in the US.   In Los Angeles County are found people from more than 140 countries.  Over 100 languages are spoken in its schools, 50+ foreign language newspapers are published in the county1 and a great variety of food -Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Guatemalan, Mexican, Peruvian, French and so forth – is readily available.

      Thinking of this multiculturalism, I wondered how the Christmas celebration customs and traditions of our churches express such diversity.  To my surprise, I found that while some differences exist, there are also many similarities, among them the lighting of candles each Sunday in Advent, the decoration of the churches, the Christmas pageants and the singing of carols.  Especially beautiful is how the churches use this celebration to build and strengthen their community, serving the purpose of God for the church as expressed by the apostle Paul, “And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people …” (1The 3:12). 

      The members of Arcadia First Congregational Church, for example, meet the evening before the first Sunday of Advent to eat together and decorate the church.  Then on Christmas Eve they share a bilingual service, followed by refreshments, with Korean Presbyterian Church.  The First Congregational Church of San Bernardino holds an Advent Festival on the first Sunday of Advent, making wreaths and putting their pictures in ornaments to be hung on the church Christmas tree.  There is also a Blue Christmas Worship service, a time to find solace, reflection and support in this busy season for those grieving a loss or who are simply stressed out.  Immanuel Latino Ministry, which celebrates Christmas with an evangelistic meeting, invites community members to spend the afternoon and provides food, presents and games for the children.  Nueva Vida Church in Chula Vista also reaches out the community, giving away more than 1500 presents to children, especially those foster kids to whom the church ministers.  They also distribute food for the poor of the community.  Other churches read the Scriptures and sing Silent Night in different languages, among them Samoan, German, Spanish and Korean.

      Every church has its personal way of celebrating Christmas but, as I said before, the common thread is the notion of building community and letting others know that Christmas is not just a time to give gifts and spend time with the family, but also a time to bring hope, love and joy to those who are suffering and whose urgent need is to know that Jesus came, “to preach the gospel to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives . . . to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”


  UCLA, Department of Information Studies, September 2006

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