by Lynn Turner
I will never forget the first Christmas that we spent away from family. Russ and I came to Costa Rica, a young married couple, 24 years old with a 5-month old baby. There were no Christmas decorations in the stores; no Christmas music playing; the weather was warm, and it just did not feel like Christmas. I missed the noisy family gathering with my parents, all my brothers and their families, the all-night games of Rook and other table games to play the night away with lots of breaks to snack on caramel popcorn, cookies, and other yummy goodies. We spent that first Christmas with another missionary family – one that I did not know until we landed in Costa Rica just a few weeks earlier. They did their best to make it a good Christmas – but it wasn’t the same.
Many years have passed since that first Christmas. Our little family grew, and we started our own traditions. One of the traditions that we still love is to go to the beach for a few days before Christmas. It is a drive of about four hours to the Guanacaste region. The time away is full of rest, reflection over the past year of ministry, and also a time to organize and plan for the upcoming year. Many good ideas have been formulated over those 2-3 days of rest. Of course, there is plenty of time for boogie-boarding, reading, and playing games at night.
This year our granddaughter, Elena, experienced her first Christmas. She went with us to Guanacaste. It was hot and sunny instead of her west coast cold and snowy weather; she saw parrots, iguanas, sloths, and pizotes, as well as incredible sunsets. During our trip, cows crossed the roads blocking our way for a few exciting moments, so we picnicked by the side of the road. What an adventure! This is the tradition that we have come to love. By Christmas Eve we were back in San Ramon. From 8 p.m. through the rest of the night our neighbors shot fireworks and loud firecrackers. In the distance, we could hear music from the various parties around town.
We have several missionary friends who are celebrating, for the first time this year, Christmas away from their known traditions and families. It is not easy at first, but if you embrace the differences of your country and let your children know that this is another exciting way to celebrate our Savior’s birth, they will grow up to appreciate and maybe even prefer this new way of celebrating Christmas.