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Reformed Church in America Global Mission missionaries and mission partners serve and share the love of Christ around the world. Here they share Christmas traditions from their unique contexts as we celebrate the birth of Christ, born to save us all. There are many ways to joyfully welcome Immanuel, God with us!


Last year, as part of our celebration of Christmas as the English Language Congregation of the National Evangelical Church Kingdom of Bahrain, our Drama Ministries team hosted Carols in the Desert: a time of carols, skits, Scripture readings, and dance. Though the program lasted more than three hours, people (500 of us) simply didn’t want the experience to end. The last song was supposed to be a short “Feliz Navidad.” But this beloved community, which reflects so beautifully the diversity of God’s kingdom, simply would not stop singing and dancing. The song lasted for more than five minutes! Their love for God and each other blesses me beyond measure and I am humbled and so very grateful to be their pastor.

large group of people sing Christmas carols by candlelight in outside courtyard

The English Language Congregation is made up of over 1,000 members from 50 different countries and as many different languages. Many of our members are away from their homeland and family during the Christmas season, so events like this are something we all look forward to. The fact that we don’t let the last song end shows the deep level of affection and joy that permeates our life together in community.  

In this and so many other ways, we gather for worship, service, prayer, and fellowship one with another as we delight in the opportunity to experience a taste of Revelation 7:9.


In Brazil, Christmas Eve is the most important part of Christmas celebrations. We gather with our family for a time of devotions before dinner and then we spend time together all night until midnight. When midnight hits, we share hugs and wish each other Feliz Natal (Merry Christmas)!

This photo is from Christmas morning, showing just how sleepy the Dantas crew is from our late night festivities!

seven smiling people around table on Christmas morning


What those of us who work at Restorations Second Stage Homes look forward to every Christmas season is the annual tradition of our “Sleep Tight” day. This day has roots from an annual fundraiser a supporter used to host around November. She gave us permission to continue her event concept but it has not fit within our own fundraising strategies. However, we loved the idea of a pajama event.

Hence, our Christmas Sleep Tight day was born! Leading up to Christmas, staff celebrate the season by showing up at work on “Sleep Tight” day in pajamas and we have a casual work day—sometimes with computers on our laps, sometimes not—with lots of good food and Christmas movies. Last year, our first year with residents at Nancy’s Housea second stage, long-term transitional home for survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking in Hamilton, Ontario—we started sharing this day with those living in our residential program.

three pairs of feet in Christmas socks lined up in front of Christmas tree

Sleep Tight day is meant to be a day to give our hardworking, dedicated staff a break, so our day usually consists of takeout pizza to keep things simple. We just come as we are, usually weary from the season, and enjoy each others’ company, eat good food, and take delight in festivities.

Make your own pizza with this pizza dough recipe.

red and white wrapped chocolates on Christmas tree

In Hungary, people decorate their Christmas trees on Christmas Eve with szaloncukor (small wrapped chocolates with various fillings). We are planning to put these on our tree as the season changes from Advent to Christmas! Boldog Karácsonyt (Happy Christmas)!


From mission partners in India

In India, feet are considered to be dirty. People do not go on their knees to clean someone’s feet unless they love them. That’s why RCA partners in India washed the feet of those they serve—some in the lowest castes—as part of their Christmas celebration. It was a reminder for their team to always be mindful of their calling to serve the least of these just like Jesus. This was an unexpected gesture and drew a lot of emotion from both sides—those doing the washing and those receiving.

people in India get their feet washed on Christmas day


By Maram, a Palestinian friend of RCA missionary Josh Vis

“Every night from the beginning of December up until January 18, there are choirs and performers performing on the Nativity Square’s stage in Bethlehem. Christmas Eve morning, we have our biggest parade to welcome the entering of Archbishops and Patriarch to the Nativity Church. They lead a midnight mass at the church. The celebration is centered around the birth of Jesus rather than Santa and shopping for gifts.

people dressed as Mary and Joseph lead the Christmas parade in Bethlehem

“Christmas day in the afternoon, we attend mass at the Shepherd’s Field Church to celebrate the appearance of the angel to the shepherds to announce to them the birth of our Savior. After the mass, there is a parade and we walk with candles around the city to represent the walk of the Shepherds to the Nativity Church. There are also street desserts/sweets that are a must- have (halawet Al- Aid) that we only can purchase on this day.”

*events are not occurring this year due to the war

Kenya – Maasai

For Christmas, the Maasai have regional Christmas conventions. During these gatherings, 236 churches in 14 districts come together to celebrate the birth of Christ with teachings, joyous choir competitions, and evangelistic activities. These women were voted the best women’s choir from the Olgumi Christmas convention. 

Maasai women's choir during Christmas convention

Maasai church members have their own version of “secret Santa” during the Christmas season. Each member selects one person’s name from a box to give a gift to on the last Sunday of November.

During the Christmas season, the Maasai also provide for widows, widowers, the extremely poor, and those who have experienced hardship in the last year. For example, Leah, a mother who recently lost her son, was given a goat.


Christmas in Kenya is about family, food, fellowship, and faith. Since Christmas falls between semesters for us at St. Paul’s University, the campus is empty as most students go home (usually up-country) for the holiday festivities. Before everyone departs, we have a closing chapel service with the faculty of theology. The Reformed Church of East Africa staff and students sometimes lead this service.

people sit in wooden pews during Christmas chapel at St Pauls University in Kenya

Kenya is south of the equator so it falls during our summer, not winter. Being a former British colony, there is Father Christmas, not Santa Claus. He can often be seen riding a horse or a camel, and many children ride on those animals, too. We decorate our trees (and churches) with popcorn, tinsel, and balloons. 


The evening of December 23 in Oaxaca, Mexico, is known as the “night of the radishes.” For a whole year, local artisans plant, grow, and harvest radishes that grow to an admirable size. Then they make amazing sculpted pieces that are exhibited in the main square on the 23rd. Year after year this tradition is viewed by thousands of local, national, and international tourists.

Christmas display made out of radishes in Mexico


By mission partners in the Netherlands

During the Christmas holidays, we in the Netherlands eat a lot of “oliebollen.” The name for these deep-fried, puffed up bread treats translates to “oil balls.” 

family of five eats oliebollen (fried dough with raisins and powdered sugar) with big grins

The earliest discovered recipe of oliekoecken (“oil cookies,” the direct precursor of the oliebol) came from the 1667 Dutch book De verstandige kock, “The smart/responsible cook.” In 1868, Van Dale, a famous Dutch dictionary, added the word “oliebol” to its dictionary. Every year, people make whole batches of oliebollen themselves, mostly in the open air or in a garden shed because it is a sticky business. Homemade oliebollen filled with raisins and topped with powdered sugar is simply the best! Blessed holidays from the Netherlands!


The big day of celebration is on Christmas Eve. The day is spent chopping, cooking, and preparing the traditional gallina con relleno (chicken with stuffing). It is most often the women who are in the kitchen while the men wait earnestly for dinner time, around 9:00 p.m. on this special day, tortured by the aromatic smells of stewing ingredients. The children impatiently skirt around the presents under the tree, knowing they have to wait until midnight before opening them. 

Once the family is gathered around the table, we share in the delicious food and revel in the joy of Christmas. If a neighbor passes by, they will surely leave with a plate in hand. No one goes hungry on Christmas. We remember the many ways we have been blessed over the past year and remember the miracle of the birth of Christ.

Christmas tree outline on side of a house that says feliz navidad

Photo courtesy Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The tradition is to wait until midnight to step out into the street and set off fireworks or light sparklers, greeting the neighbors with well wishes. Once the sparklers have fizzled and the fireworks around the neighborhood have died down, the children rush back inside and beg their parents to open gifts. 

The Christmas festivities wrap up around one or two in the morning, when everyone wanders off to bed to get some sleep. On December 25, Christmas Day, most people sleep in until late morning before getting up for lunch, leftovers from the night before. 

Make gallina con relleno (chicken with stuffing)

South Africa

It’s Christmas morning in Botshabelo, South Africa, and the smell of the brai [barbeque] is filling the air as the family wakes up to prepare to go to church. It’s a day to both honor the birth of the Saviour and to center the family. All are dressed in best clothes for a lively and joy-filled service, although lacking in American Christmas carols.

Christmas braai (barbecue) with charcoal and flame

Following the worship service, everyone makes their way to the table. Poorer families eat white rice with chicken and vegetables. More affluent families prepare “7-colours meal plus dessert,” offering different vegetables and salads to ensure a colorful plate of food for the holiday. An assortment of meats from the brai accompany the salads and vegetables when it is affordable. All of this is being cooked up and enjoyed while music and fun ensues late into Christmas night.


Christmas in Bangkok looks similar to Christmas in the U.S. but without the cold weather. In fact, it’s quite hot and humid. There are beautiful Christmas displays in commercial spaces, and it’s common to hear carols playing in the background amidst the smell of incense coming from worship at nearby temples or idol houses. One difference, though, is while in America we look forward to slowing down and spending time with family and loved ones, Christmas in Thailand is peak season for evangelism and outreach, sharing the true meaning of what we celebrate during Christmas. My colleagues and I have some sort of outreach event planned almost daily during this season. 

Christmas service at church in Thailand