The living manger scene
in the children's school
Christmas Comes to India
By James E. McEldowney
My Visit with Mahatma Gandhi Stories - Table of Contents Lost in London

Is Christmas your favorite holiday? Is it because you get many toys and other gifts? Or is it because so many brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles come to help you celebrate?

Of course the very first Christmas celebration was when early Christians wanted to celebrate the birth of Jesus. You have no doubt heard how Jesus was born in a stable and shepherds and wise men came to worship Him. They brought gifts and that may be the reason you receive gifts today. Did you know that when you write 1997 you are saying that it has been 1997 years since Jesus was born? All that happened before Jesus was born is known as "before Christ," or BC. Everything since he was born is known as "after Christ," or AD. Jesus must have been very important for this to happen. No wonder we still celebrate his birth on Christmas Day, December 25. So with the toys and with all the good times your family will have in the Christmas holidays you should also remember that Jesus was born on Christmas Day. He changed the whole world and almost everything you enjoy has been touched and made more wonderful because He came into the world.

Christians and others around the world celebrate Christmas. Let me tell you how we celebrated Christmas when our children were small and we lived in India. We didn't always do all that I am going to tell you but we sometimes did it. Not only was it celebrated this way on our campus and in our family but also in other places.

In America we usually drive around and see all the beautiful lights at Christmas and the stores are filled with toys and good things. We missed that in India. Stores did not have many toys or [++Page 63] Christmas cards or party things. For a number of years women of Bethel Methodist Church in Charleston, S. Carolina, sent a box for Christmas. When it came you should have heard the children. Betty Ann would say, "Just look, here is my favorite book." Phil would pick up a bag of Christmas candy and say, "Wow, how did they know what I liked?" And usually there was a doll and sometimes a little dress and Barbara would pick it up and say, "Mother, write them right now and tell them how wonderful these gifts are." You can hardly imagine how very thankful we were that those ladies sent us a Christmas box. The children liked the few things I could buy them in Indian stores, but these gifts were special.

We lived on a campus where the students were studying to be leaders in the church. Some of the students were married and their families lived right on the campus because the women were also students. Other men and women students were not married and lived in dormitories. All of them were excited when Christmas came.

Early Christmas morning all of us went to the Nursery School on the campus. Our children knew many of the children in the nursery and I would hear one of them say, "Who is dressed up like Joseph? Who is sitting near the manger like Mary did? Whose baby is in the manger?" The little children acted out the story of Christmas. Some of them were shepherds, some were wise men, and they even tried to put a blanket over a dog and pretend he was a sheep. Then they sang a carol and we went home.

Right after noon we heard the Chapel bell ring and everyone came to the center of the campus. Christmas is a fun time and because children didn't have many toys or other ways to celebrate we had a sports day. For two hours we had contests - races for children of different ages - and all our children ran as hard as they could. We had discus throw, high jump, and most fun of all was the tug of war. That was when the strongest students lined up on one side and members of the faculty on the other. I joined in that and when the tug of war began you should have seen Philip. He was dancing where the marker was that had to be crossed when one team pulled the other up to the marker. He and other children were calling out to their dads to heave hard, and before long one or the other side would win and then there was a shout from the crowd. After that all of us had a cup of tea or some Kool Aid drink, for which we had to thank the women of Bethel church.

After tea students and children had to dress for the big event of the day. Again the Chapel bell rang and we formed a procession and began singing Christmas carols as we marched from the Chapel towards the row of student houses. The first place we stopped was around a little fire where the shepherds sat. One of them pointed to the sky and said, "It must be angels for I hear a voice." Then from just a little way off we heard the voice say, "Behold I bring you great joy for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. Go find where He is lying in a [++Page 64] manger."

We all joined in singing "While Shepherds watched their flocks by night." Do you know that song? Can you sing it?

Then the procession moved on and we had not gone far when we heard another song, "We three Kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we travel afar." and three students dressed as kings came from between two houses and we all stopped and joined in the song.

By that time it was almost dark. As we looked farther ahead we saw the manger scene. There was Joseph and Mary and the manger with a little babe in it. The babe was always the youngest baby born among the married students that year.

Near the center of the scene was a stand and on it a large lighted candle, for Jesus was said to be the light of the world. We sang "Away in a manger, no crib for His bed." Can you sing that? As we sang, the shepherds came and knelt before the manger and a moment later the three kings came bringing their gifts. Then we sang a number of carols. It was time then for one of the faculty members to offer a short prayer, after which he told us to light small candles that were on the stand. Each family came to the stand and the boys and girls as well as their fathers and mothers took a candle and lit it at the Jesus candle. They took the lighted candle, the light of Jesus, and started back across the campus to their homes. It was dark by that time. Just imagine what a pretty sight it was to see those little lights shining in the dark as they spread out across the campus.

It was Christmas eve. As they reached their homes and as the single students reached their dormitories they took their little lights and lit other lights outlining their houses. Those little lights were what were called dias. They were a clay saucer with a little oil in it and a cotton wick. What a lovely light they made. Some of the students went to the roadway in front of the college and lit little lights on the top of the wall. Before long the whole campus was full of light. Then each family had a little family service of their own to end the celebration.

Is it any wonder, now that our children are grown, they remember what a lovely time Christmas was in India? Toys are fun and having lots of company is also fun, but best of all they remember how they celebrated the birth of Jesus and how they had lit their candles at His light, for He is the light of the world. [by James E. McEldowney, Spring 1997]

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