Growing up, my family ate McDonald’s for Christmas. My parents didn’t quite understand the culturally appropriate way to celebrate Christmas in a Western country. What I saw on TV – extended families sharing turkey, mountains of food, holiday tunes – these were all foreign to my parents.
As new Christians, they did not yet understand the full cultural significance of the holiday. The only meaningful tradition they had learned was going to church on Christmas morning.
We were part of the first wave of economic migrants from Hong Kong, living on the outskirts of housing affordability. Back in those days, there were few choices for Chinese people to gather for church. Consequently, it was always a long drive with few accessible opportunities to build meaningful relationships with other more established, Westernized, earlier migrants.
“Back in those days, there were few choices for Chinese people to gather for church.”
And so there we were, after Christmas Day service at McDonald’s yet again – our “tradition”. It was the only restaurant near church open on a public holiday. We went to McDonald’s almost weekly after church in those days. Christmas Day was, in that sense, no different: the same routine, the same order, another Happy Meal toy. But in another sense, the day was altogether different: it felt a lot more…quiet.
As I grew a little older, this tradition began to embarrass me. McDonald’s again? I wished someone could’ve shown us how to celebrate Christmas properly. But it seemed Christmas was the time for everyone to do their own thing with their families – and no one else.
Fast forward to a Christmas in my early twenties. This Christmas found me with a random bunch from church, almost 20 people cramming into a small apartment. Little tables joined together, dining chairs and other eclectic stools and study chairs were brought in to make sure everyone fit around the table.
I was an ‘orphan’ that year; my parents were away and I had been invited to a brother’s house for lunch. He had opened it up to anyone without their family that Christmas, I just had to turn up. This brother had prepared a feast for us – he kept coming out of his little kitchen with yet another dish to squeeze on the table. I still remember the oysters; I couldn’t believe this brother had bought such an expensive item for us to enjoy.
On top of that, he had prepared gifts for us all. I was so struck by this man’s generosity and hospitality – but he was simply embodying Christ, openly welcoming all to the table to share in his abundance and receive his generosity. Finally, I understood: this is how we’re meant to celebrate Christmas together.
“He had opened it up to anyone without their family that Christmas. I just had to turn up.“
Thanks to this man, I now try and take the opportunity to open our house to “orphans” at Christmas. Even without immediate family nearby, my young daughter has not known the Christmas tradition of lonely McDonald’s that I had as a child.
How can we all embody Christ’s generosity and hospitality to those who are new or marginalized this Christmas? May we together build inclusive, warm and meaningful traditions with our neighbours this year.