Church opens doors for Christmas celebration with international flavor

Sunday, December 23, 2007 | 7:36 p.m. CST; updated 3:57 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Alejandro Tovar-Mendez's family celebrates Christmas in a mix of American and Mexican traditions.

Among Columbia’s 94,600 residents, 16,300 are minorities, 5,440 are foreign-born and 2,840 rarely speak English.

But cultural and language gaps don’t keep them from sharing the joy of the holidays.


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On Sunday, American and international families gathered at the International Community Church to sing carols in different languages, enjoy exotic food, watch a movie about the origin of Christmas and celebrate homeland traditions.

Jagat and Nani Lamsal, a Nepalase couple celebrating their fifth Christmas in Columbia, said the festivities in their home country are far more reserved than they are in the United States.

“In Nepal, only Christians have Christmas break and (a) holy meeting in church,” Jagat Lamsal said. “Non-Christian families enjoy simple celebrations and parties. In our country, people are not allowed to decorate their house during Christmas.”

He added, “We like the festival air and decorations here.”

Shinya Yuge, an MU student from Japan, said that Japanese exchange gifts, buy a Christmas tree and decorate their homes. Young couples celebrate Christmas to show affection, and men will often give women jewelry.

Christmas is not a national holiday and less important than New Year’s Day in most east Asian countries. But in Hong Kong and Macau, both former European colonies and now special administrative regions of China, Christmas Day is recognized as a public holiday.

James Lee is from Hong Kong and has lived in the United States for 17 years. He recalled that some roads were prohibited to vehicles because people were walking around to enjoy Hong Kong during the holiday.

Paul Fox, the church’s pastor, said his wife is Dutch and Europeans celebrate St. Nicholas Day earlier in December to honor the memory of the saint on which Santa Claus is based.

That tradition will also have an extra benefit for one member of the Fox family.

“Our daughter will receive her second gift on Christmas Day,” Fox said.

Alejandro Tovar-Mendez is from Mexico, where children open gifts on Jan. 6 for Twelfth Night, in recognition of the gifts brought for the newborn Jesus by the three kings in the Bible. Tovar-Mendez negotiated with his wife, who is from Bolivia, to let their son receive gifts on Christmas Eve and Twelfth Night.

The church has offered services to international members since 1999 and has members from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Latin America.

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