Celebrating Christmas for the First Time

first christmas Thursday, December 16, 2010 was a special day in Saksida, a little suburb of Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso. In this neighborhood, not far from the noisy traffic of the town, time seemed to have stopped.

In the community Bonheur Ville (Town of Happiness), wonderful praise music rose from the Saksida Assemblies of God Church. The parents, children, and staff were jubilant.

The presence of children in church that Thursday was not something unique; they were accustomed to coming to the child development center on Thursdays. Yet their colorful uniforms, along with the attendance of parents and officials, indicated that something special was taking place. The center was celebrating Christmas for the very first time.

Saksida Assemblies of God Church began its partnership with Compassion in 2010. When Eglise Evangélique Baptiste de Toega Koudougou started 118 needy children were registered; among them are 32 sponsored children.

The 2010 Christmas celebration was special for at least two reasons. First, the child development center had begun just four months earlier. As a new center, Christmas was an opportunity to show parents how much we care for their children.

The second reason was that many Compassion-assisted children come from Muslim or animist families and did not know what Christmas was. Even for those who are Christians, the word “Christmas” has almost never been linked to such celebration.

After a few speeches started off the celebration, the floor was given to the children. They presented what they had been working on for the past month.

In front of the parents and guests, children showed their artistic talents with ballet dances and songs. Boys were in jean uniforms and girls wore colorful dresses and skirts. They honored the Savior with their voices and dances.

Then their representative, Ruth, stood in front of the audience and spoke. She thanked the audience for the nice celebration and blessed all of them.

Soon it was time to eat and drink. Plates were filled with macaroni and meat, a meal much appreciated by the children. Hands and forks raced from dishes to mouths.

While eating, the children’s minds focused on another part of the celebration: the time when the children would receive gifts from Santa Claus. They could wait no longer.

Finally, cookies, candies and popcorn were offered and each child received his share with satisfaction. Large smiles beamed from their faces. For many of the children, it was the very first Christmas gift they had ever received.

Parents were amazed. How can people living far away decide to support children they do not know and provide them with such gifts to celebrate Christmas? This was the kind of question rushing through the minds of parents as they witnessed the celebration.

One mother shared,

“I am very happy for the Christmas celebration today. My prayer is that next year, things will be better. May God help sponsors and donors to continue their support.”

Handshakes and hugs ended the celebration, with children looking with excitement to next Christmas when they can joyfully celebrate again.

16 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Ingrid January 23, 2012

    We were never allowed to have a Christmas Tree growing up, and here’s why: My father grew up in Madagascar, a child of a medic missionary. All of the missionaries had Christmas trees (not sure what kind of trees) and made a big deal out of them. The local nationals saw the emphasis on the Christmas trees and were confused as to what Christmas was all about… many thought Christmas was about the trees and the trees became an idol to many – mostly out of ignorance and following the lead of missionaries. Because of this, my father didn’t allow Christmas trees in our house growing up. I’m sure many would call that extreme, but I sure never suffered for it! (I grew up in America, although I have siblings that spent part of their childhood in Africa)… For this reason alone, I don’t think Santa should be introduced into the communities. It detracts from the true meaning of Christmas, sure – and especially for “young” Christians it most definitely confuses them. ESPECIALLY to those who don’t attend the events and only hear about what happened by word of mouth.

    Glad to hear a story from Burkina Faso, as I too sponsor a sweet little boy from there :)

  2. Christine December 22, 2011

    As a mother of 5 children here in the states, I am disheartened to hear that Santa is being introduced into these celebrations. Originally it was just a story/character here as well, but it has become an idol in many Christian homes. There is still a ‘magic’ for children to receive presents in Christ’s name. Fictional characters in themselves are not wrong, but when we feel the need to introduce them at Christmas, we give the impression that Christ himself is not joy and gift enough, but must be supplemented. St. Nicholas has his own day (Dec. 6th), if we want to remember his life of giving in Christ’s name, that is wonderful, and fine, but let’s give Christ his own day for Christmas.

  3. Lacey December 18, 2011

    I agree with Gerry. Christmas is supposed to be a magical time for children. It sounds to me that they did learn the true meaning of Christmas, knew presents were provided by sponsors, and enjoyed seeing Santa deliver them. I also feel that we should not give with the expectation of receiving credit. Finally, I wonder how many people that disagree with having Santa deliver gifts enjoyed that same tradition as a child?

  4. Stephanie December 18, 2011

    What a neat post! It really is amazing the joy and appreciation that these kids have. I wished I could’ve witnessed this celebration. It .wouldn’t been far more rewarding than an celbration here in the U.S.

  5. Beth B December 17, 2011

    “the time when the children would receive gifts from Santa Claus. “…makes me think that someone dressed up to pass out the gifts… to make it fun for the children..and the rest of the article talked about the families appreciating that people from so far away would care about their children to provide them with Christmas gifts (God showing His love through people!).

  6. Ginger W December 17, 2011

    I was moved to tears by this wonderful post. Then I read the comments and was crying for a different reason. :/

    Santa = St Nicholas. God has always worked in and through his saints.

    Can we possibly focus on the most important point of this post? Jesus’ birth is being celebrated for the first time in this place! Alleluia!

  7. Linda December 17, 2011

    I am thankful that the town of Saksida has been touched by CII and had a Christmas celebration. We should all know that the gifts received were from ‘GOD’ and not ‘us’ or Santa. Is it bad to encourage children to be children and enjoy the mystery and love of Santa? I am thankful and humbled by the workers at CII and the Assemblies of God Church and their works.

  8. Marilee December 17, 2011

    I recently sponsored a little boy from this village and would love to see some pictures of this year’s party!
    I would also prefer that the gift we give be from us (not Santa), because we love Jesus and are celebrating His birthday. I’m not opposed to enjoying the fun story of Santa Claus, but his existence and gift giving abilities should be done in an honest way.

  9. gerry December 17, 2011

    Thank you for sharing this. Having read a blog entry here last year, I sponsored a little girl from Burkina Faso very soon afterwards. She sent me a letter earlier this year telling me about her Christmas party at her centre. It was the first time she had ever celebrated Christmas since her family is Muslim.
    I now have 4 children from Burkina Faso so I love reading blogs about there and learning more about the country and Compassion’s work.
    BTW, I see nothing wrong with Santa giving out presents and I am glad the children all got one. To me, Santa is a physical representative of the spirit of giving. i believed in Santa as a child but knew too that the reason for Christmas was the birth of Christ. I’m sure the children have heard of the story of the nativity at their centre. Believing in Santa didn’t make me less of a Christian then or now.

  10. Barbara Rüegger December 17, 2011

    So, true, by giving to others, true Christmas is happening and we will win the hearts of people for Christ, the reason for Christmas, if we do so. Continue to encourage people to get involved and share from their abundance with those who are in need.

  11. maxine lindsay December 17, 2011

    I too am saddened to see santa being introduced into a celebration of Christ’s birth, this is the perfect opportunity to banish this practice from where it does not belong. Why would you introduce this to people. I would hope my child in Haiti does not receive my gift in the name of santa!! As Christians we should be taking a stand against this practice and yet I am amazed at the amount of Christians who add santa into the celebration. I am sure St Nicholas would be horrified at what we have done to remember his kindness to the poor and suffering of his day.

  12. Sandra December 16, 2011

    I am also surprised to hear that ‘Santa’ is mentioned. When my children receive their gifts from CI I want them to understand we celebrate the birth of our Savior, not a fat man in a red suit handing out gifts.

  13. Nathan Cary December 16, 2011

    I, like Cory, was a little concerned about the reference to Santa. Here is a celebration of Christmas, with the possibility to make it ALL about Jesus Christ, to these Muslim and animist people.
    Of course, the gifts would attract attention. Those too, are a reflection of the love of Jesus Christ through Christians. I would wish that Santa would stay at the North Pole.
    If you’ve never witnessed African cultures worship, you’ll know they can put us Westerners to shame.

  14. Anh December 16, 2011

    Thanks so much for this, my sponsored child is from Burkina Faso. I have been thinking a lots about my child Christmas Party.

  15. Cory December 16, 2011

    I’m a bit surprised to see that the gifts were passed out by “Santa”.

    1. Ashley December 16, 2011

      I thought about that too but I heard a song today that says “Santa knows we are all God’s children.” I don’t think Santa discounts Jesus.

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