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June 26, 2000 (Email)
The Story of Christmas


I'm really starting to get cabin fever in Janakpur. 

The weather really hasn't been as hot as I was afraid it would be, but it's definitely rainy. The alley I live on is flooded from one end to the other every day. Even on my bike, my feet sometimes go under the water - it's that deep. Staph infection waiting to happen.

I've spent over $50 on my TV to have it fixed twice. The picture is still pretty bad (what we would call unacceptable at home) and inconsistent, but I watch it almost every night. CNN has been out for weeks but the movie channel just came back in after it was also gone for weeks. 

OK - the woman I was waiting for just came in. I have to explain to some of the women who do paintings the "Story of Christmas" so that they can paint some Christmas cards. 

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Back from the painting room. The women hadn't heard of Santa Claus before and, although they had heard the name Jesus before, didn't know anything about his birth story. I think I explained the appearance of things well enough for the cards to come out looking recognizable... but I'm pretty sure I didn't explain things well enough to get across the subtleties of the story. 

Here's a rough translation of what I said first as I showed them a pen sketch I had done:

"This is the night Jesus was born. This is his mother and father. They were very poor and could not afford the hotel. One man said they could sleep with his animals for one night. This was the night the baby was born. This is the baby's father, but his real father is God. His mother and father had not slept together, so how did the baby come? (women's laughter) God created it. When God's baby came, he created a big star in the sky.  Three kings saw the star and said "Why did that star come?" They came to ask what the star came about. They brought gifts like money for the baby under the star."

Of course, as Hindis, the idea of god having a human child or sending signs to earth is not unusual at all. They have such a huge, elaborate, all-encompassing religion here - with innumerable stories, many of which involve interaction with the real world. It has a lot more in common with the old Greek and Roman religions than the religions we're familiar with. There's just not as much of a barrier in people's minds here between earth and the "spiritual" world. This seems to make the people here more spiritual and willing to believe in virtually anything. People achieve godliness through devoutness, faith, and good living - and gods come down to earth in the form of men. 

But this sort of broadness also seems to make religion less meaningful somehow. I don't mean that statement to criticize the Hindi religion as much as the culture which accepts it so completely and unquestioningly. Although Hindis here are much more active and involved in their religion than a Christian would generally be at home (all of Nepali society sometimes seems to be structured around Hindi beliefs and practices), I think that someone saying they are a Christian at home somehow means more to me than someone saying they are Hindi here. 

I probably shouldn't say that because it's hard to express exactly what I mean. Maybe it has to do with the overriding lack of questioning in this culture. Everybody is born into this ages old Hindi culture and they never question the beliefs taught to them by their parents and society. Maybe it means more to me for someone to say they are religious back home because I know that they were encouraged to question what they believed as they grew up in our culture much more than they would have been in Nepali culture. 

Whatever the case, the women weren't blown away by the idea that the baby Jesus was the son of God.

My second story was the story of Santa Claus:

"On Christmas night, this man comes. (referring to another pen sketch) His name is Santa Claus. Santa Claus is an old fat man. He gives presents to good children but not to naughty children. Santa Claus is magic. He comes in the air on his vehicle with his elks. He has a big bag of toys for the good children. His clothes are red and his beard is big and white." 

The women were definitely more interested in the Santa Claus story than the Jesus story. Santa came off looking more like a god than Jesus's father, and I'm sure they now think that Santa is one of the Christian gods. (Hindis say they have 300,000,000 gods, but this is just an estimate because who knows how many people have escaped the circle of reincarnation and attained godliness?!) 

So, at least I've managed to give the women the same priorities in their understanding of Christmas that most Americans have. It's about Santa Claus and presents... and then there's this other related story about a baby and a star.

Still no sign of me going to Kathmandu any time soon, despite how much I would love to go, what an appropriate time this would be for a vacation, etc. I've been in Janakpur by myself for quite a while now. I might be able to go up in a couple weeks to help show the new Christmas items to our big customers -- and to send out some more of the mugs I had made for All-Vol (orders from the new 190 group are just now coming in). I'll let you know.


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