On Christmas, Messiah Gives Thanks

It was Christmas of 1991, and I had just come to the SOS Children’s Village in Monrovia, Liberia in September. The civil war had quieted down and schools had reopened.

Before I came to SOS, I was living in the heart of the city with my uncle. We had very little because the war had taken everything away from us. I used to walk more than an hour to school every morning and more than an hour back after school—sometimes with no breakfast, with no lunch, and being unsure whether I would have food at home after school.

Coming to SOS was like heaven. And things were about to get even more heavenly for me that Christmas. 

In early November, rumors began to echo around the village about Christmas shopping. SOS mothers shop for clothes, shoes and a very special Christmas outfit for the kids, keeping up with the tradition of dressing up on Christmas day. Everyone was excited to hear the news. It was like Christmas spirit had begun and Christmas was just around the corner. The mood in the whole village was different, filled with Christmas cheer.

It truly felt like the most wonderful time.

The next morning, as we prepared for school, the radio station started playing Christmas carols. As I wore my uniform for school, one of my favorite Christmas songs came on: “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” 

I had never experienced the anticipation for Christmas with everyone so happy and cheerful. Mom spent a week shopping for all six of us kids in the house. I had never had this many things bought for me at one time in my life. Clothes, shoes, socks, underwear, sandals, hangers, deodorants, a watch… the list goes on. And my Christmas outfit was spectacular; I couldn’t wait for Christmas to come so I could wear it to show it off to all my friends.

The week of Christmas, I could hear Christmas carols in every corner of the village. Kids gathered around in groups to talk about the new things their moms had bought for them, including their Christmas outfits. It was a beautiful week and an exciting time for everyone—especially for me, a newcomer.

That week, Mom also went to shop for food to prepare on Christmas day… and boy, oh boy, did we have food that Christmas! When it comes to food and Christmas in SOS Liberia, it is almost like Thanksgiving in the U.S. On Christmas day, Mom prepared some of Liberia’s finest dishes: jollof rice, baked chicken, rice bread, collard greens, potato salad and all kinds of drinks.

Christmas Day

The morning of Christmas, everyone was warm and friendly. It was a great atmosphere. Mom prepared breakfast and we all gathered at the table to eat and share our plans for the day. I couldn’t wait to dress up in my new outfit and show it off to everyone. By noon, and with some help from our older sisters, our Christmas meal was ready. I can still remember how the smell of the food made my mouth water.

I had never seen anything like this, except on TV. I couldn’t believe I was part of it. This little boy from the slums now sits at a table eating delicious food with these wonderful people. I was truly blessed.

After the meal, we all went to get ready in our new Christmas outfits. This was the moment I had been waiting for. I wore my clothes, put my watch on and my sunglasses on. Everyone said I looked like a movie star. I had never been so happy, and ever since that day, Christmas has never been the same.

Today, to keep up with some of the Christmas traditions here in the United States, we cook a lot of the same wonderful dishes on Christmas day, and 2018 Christmas is no different. This year, we are including jollof rice and rice bread in our Christmas meal—just like I had on that first magical Christmas at SOS Liberia.

Happy holidays!

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