OSAGE | It can be difficult for families to manage the Christmas season with their own family, but trying to manage the holidays when a family is exposed to several cultural influences, can be an even bigger challenge. Such was the case for the Stern family, when they took up residence as missionaries in Hong Kong from 1978 to 1992.
Rev. Jim Stern and his wife, Anna, who now serve at the Osage Alliance Church, moved to Hong Kong in 1978, with two babies, to become missionaries to the country. During their first four years, they had two more children.
The Sterns had to celebrate Christmas with their children, participate in a Christmas celebration with their missionary family, endure the commercial celebration of Hong Kong’s general population and had to serve their church on Christmas.
Christmases were quite different from their experiences in the United States, because of the oriental culture.
“Christmas was more commercial than it was religious,” Stern said. Absent from their families in the United States, the Sterns’ new family became their fellow missionaries. “We missionaries all became like family,” Stern said. “We all became aunts, uncles, sisters and brothers.”
Stern said the first Christmas in Hong Kong was a real different adjustment.
“Christmas in Hong Kong was a religious holiday and not a family holiday,” said Stern. “Believers did not celebrate Christmas with their own families, but celebrated Christmas with their church. For that reason, our family went to church on Christmas Day.”
Stern said the church’s celebration, on Christmas Day, was an all-day thing.
“We had a traditional service with preaching and singing in the morning. At noon, we ate Chinese food, which was really good. After lunch we played games, and just hung out together for the rest of the day,” Stern said. “Some years we had a retreat on Christmas.”
Stern recalled the family’s first Christmas when their daughter was two years old.
“Our mission’s chairman, who was big and had a loud voice, dressed up like Santa Claus,” Stern said. “When he came out saying ‘Ho Ho.’ He scared our daughter half to death and she lost it.”
The Stern’s family Christmas took place on Dec. 26, which was Boxer Day in Hong Kong.
“Because Hong Kong was billed as the most lit up city in the world, with it’s lit up skyscrapers during Christmas and the Chinese New Year,” said Stern. “We, as a family, often went down to the harbor, and looked across the bay toward the lit up buildings. Some people would take a Chinese junk and take a tour of the lights.
“Because of the lack of Christian influence in the area, an average family might just go out to eat or shop on Christmas.”
Looking back on their Christmas experiences, Stern said, “One of the hardest things was you weren’t with your family of origin the first two years, until your fellow missionaries became your family.”