Our first Christmas out of the States – it was interesting! I should first of all tell you that a few days before Christmas we told the kids the whole truth about Santa Claus. Now I know some reading this may not approve of a Christian child believing in Santa, buy but our emphasis has always been on Jesus’ birth with Santa just some extra fun. It’s kind of funny, and actually, that we never have really pushed it too much, but the kids have always been very persistent that Santa exists. We already had in mind that it was time to tell them the whole story and after Maggie saying a few times that she doesn’t believe in Santa, we decided it was time to lay the cards on the table. We first read them a poem from Santa’s point of view telling a parent to teach the children all the meanings of Christmas, all relating to the birth of Jesus. Then we read them the real story of Saint Nicolas and talked about how Christmas traditions came to be. Maggie said, “I knew he wasn’t real,” but Alex was a little bit disappointed. We actually expected the opposite outcome, but in the end both kids were satisfied with Santa being part of the fun of Christmas, but not the meaning.

On Christmas Eve we went to bed as normal, but were awakened at midnight as fireworks went off. It’s tradition here to have your Christmas meal and open gifts at midnight. We had opened gifts from my sister a little earlier in the day – a first for us!! We went back to sleep and woke up shortly after five excited for Christmas…okay, I have to be honest here, I was the most excited for Christmas morning because we had a lot of exciting things in store!

The kids woke up and found gifts laid out and, as I write every year, a letter from Santa telling them he was glad that they were old enough to understand the true meaning of Christmas, but letting them know he missed the yummy cookies they used to leave :). They knew it was from me, but it was still fun to write them a note telling them the good things they had done that we were proud of.

It came time to open gifts. This Christmas was nothing short of amazing! We had told the kids for a long while that this Christmas would be very different, very small and that we would focus on doing things together as a family rather than actual gifts. We ended up being so blessed with gifts we were overwhelmed! The kids opened first gifts from the Daisies and Michelle McKinney from our home church in Atlanta. Then they opened gifts from Grandma Cindy, Nana Kautz and us. This year the kids are at such a cool age because they took time to really appreciate every gift and each one they opened received oohs and aahs and lots of excitement. When they finished they had quite a great assortment of new toys (which was awesome because they brought very little with them from the States and toys here cost at least double what they do there.)

Then it was time for the first surprise. Corey and I had planned on exchanging gifts, but when the dog broke her leg all the Christmas money went to pay for her surgery. I, however, have a small amount of dough in the States from the typing job I’ve had and I decided to dip into it a little bit. Maggie and I went shopping and found a guitar for Corey. Maggie has really wanted one, too, and when we realized just how inexpensive guitars are here, I let Maggie pick out her Christmas gift. She was so excited to play a trick on Corey. He was sitting by the tree and had just finished passing out presents, realizing I hadn’t snuck anything under the tree. We told him we had a little surprise for him and Maggie came down and put her guitar in his lap. He looked a little confused, but she was cracking up. Then we went and got the one we had bought for him. He really liked it and now we’re working on getting someone to come teach him how to play it!

Time for the second surprise! The kids had no idea that our home church, Calvary Assembly of God in Atlanta, had decided to “adopt” our kids for Christmas. They asked me for a wish list from the kids and they fulfilled nearly everything on that list! The kids had another round of opening gifts and again each one was amazing and completely stunned them. God used so many people to bless us so abundantly we cannot express our gratitude. The kids said, “This is the best Christmas ever…we’ve never gotten so many presents and they’re all cool. You said this was going to be a small Christmas, so I thought I’d only get one or two presents.” It was such a blessing for us to see them so happy.

After playing for a while we loaded up and headed to the Master’s Commission house for a Colombian Christmas. It was so much fun! They had a cookout with lots of family and friends. Our meal consisted of steak, chicken, potatoes, plantains with cheese and more! We had an interesting experience because they insisted on serving us first, and they loaded our plates. We kind of held off eating, but they insisted we start eating. As we’re sitting there slowly working our way through the food everyone else was waiting for the food to be done. Talk about feeling like all eyes are on you! And then to make us feel worse, for lack of a better word, when everyone else was served their plates had about a quarter of what was on ours. We ate as much as we could knowing it would be rude to leave behind too much food, especially when everyone else had so much less. This is one of those cultural things we haven’t figured out how to maneuver through and be treated as equals rather than special guests. Don’t get me wrong, we’re honored to be seen as special, but especially when it comes to the food we’d rather be one of the gang.

After completely stuffing ourselves and enjoying lots of good conversation in Spanish we left and headed to another missionary’s house…for a late lunch/early dinner. The three other missionary families in Bogotá came together. Now when this was all being planned out I thought we were having dinner at six or so, but the dinner with the missionaries ended up being at 3 and we had just eaten around 1:30. It was fun, though. We had turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, a very American Christmas dinner and again good conversation.

We went home completely stuffed and ready to play with all the kids’ toys. At some point I looked at Alex and we agreed that this was the weirdest Christmas we had ever had, but it was so fun. Watching the kids so in awe of how many people loved them and remembered them was a huge Christmas present for this mom worried her kids would be a little depressed at Christmas. Thank you to everyone who sent gifts. You brought home to us – not necessarily in the gifts, although that way too, but just by reaching out to us during the holidays. Merry Christmas!
~Tona