December 22, 2022

Christmas Memories by Lorrie Orr


Hand carved nativity set from San Antonio de Ibarra, Ecuador

Memories surge at Christmas. Most years meld together in a hazy cloud of joyful family gatherings, delicious food, quiet moments of meditation, old songs, and traditions all pointing to the overarching story of Immanuel, God with us. It is when something exceptional happens that Christmas memories are preserved in crystal clarity.  

1981. So many changes. It was the first Christmas away from family, with only my husband and our 7-week old daughter. In place of quiet, snowy winter scenes, raw green jungle surrounded our home. Garish plastic Santas and haphazardly strung lights adorned some homes. No Christmas carols to tire of while walking in the mall - in fact, no malls or stores to shop in unless one needed eggs or tomato paste. Worst of all, no one, of the few acquaintances we'd met during our first months in Ecuador, invited us to share Christmas with them. 

On Christmas Eve, we sat together, Tim and I, with tiny Cristal between us, looking at our small and ugly artificial tree. I had brought salt dough ornaments from home and with the high jungle humidity, they sagged off from their ribbons and fell to the floor, just like my crumbled expectations. All was bleak. We both wept, missing family desperately. We wept for all that was familiar about Christmas. We wept from loneliness. We wept from missing family. Tim read the Christmas story aloud, and we went to bed, still sad and lonely. 

We had invited a family (co-workers) to share dinner with us the next day. They came, and to my utter shock, left soon after eating. Our family traditions were a long dinner that stretched into the afternoon and evening, playing games, nibbling on goodies, doing puzzles, and finally, finishing up with leftovers before packing up tired children and heading home. Another nail hammered hard into the coffin of unmet expectations. 

Later that week I vowed that I would never experience such a Christmas again. I could, and would do something about it. One of the first things was my realization that I had relied on others to prepare Christmas and evoke the sentiments of the season. The music, the beautiful church services, the lights. Instead, I must prepare my heart before I prepared my home. I did not grow up with Advent traditions, and the next year began practicing the quiet preparations of waiting to celebrate Christ's birth.

Then I began examining my expectations. Family - impossible. Friends - definitely. Each year we invited others to share Christmas with us - and were blessed by the numerous people who sat around our table - Canadians, Americans, Germans, British, Swedish, Australians, Ecuadorians, and New Zealanders. We developed our own family traditions as our family grew to three, and some of those are carried on now into our grandchildren's lives. 

For all of our years in Ecuador Christmas was hard. In the mornings, as I dressed for the day, my mind flew to Canada and to beloved family gathered together. There were always a few tears, but then I would walk out to prepare breakfast for my family, knowing that the truth of Immanuel - God with us, God with me - would not only sustain me, but give me great joy in the celebration of his birth. 


  1. Thanks for your poignant and honest memory of Christmas and for your example of courage and tenacity to change things for the better. Merry Christmas, Lorrie.

  2. Dear Lorrie, what a beautiful nativity set to go with your lovely post. May God with us always be the reason we celebrate Christmas.
    I suspect tears in the early years of a couple figuring out their way to celebrate Christmas isn't uncommon. You brought back a memory of how hard it can be to navigate new customs. It was what also drew me to pay closer attention to preparing my heart ahead of time. Advent readings are so comforting.
    Merry Christmas & blessings for 2023

  3. Lorrie, your honest recollection of difficult Christmases far from home touched my heart. As you say, we can't look to others to fulfill our Christmas expectations, we must determine to celebrate Immanuel where we are, as we are. This particular thought will linger with me, "I must prepare my heart before I prepared my home." Thanks for helping me do that!

  4. Those early years must have been hard, but I like how you said it is up to us to prepare our hearts. that is the key, isn't it? Have a wonderful day and season this year!

  5. Thanks, Lorrie. I can relate to being away from home and the nostalgic moments I wasn't near my family. Actually, my experience was quite near you--in Colombia!

  6. Thank you for haring about expectations, Lorie. The difference between our expectations and our experience determines the level of pain we endure. Good that you took charge of your expectations.


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