AN INTERNATIONAL CHRISTMAS
A few days before the Christmas holidays, an international group gathered at St. Columba’s Scottish Mission in Budapest for an interfaith community celebration of Christmas. The event was organized by Dóra Kanizsai-Nagy, head of the RCH Refugee Ministry, and drew guests from all different backgrounds and life experiences. Each year she coordinates an event like this for the clients she helps in her work, as well as for other interested community members. In past years the party has been held at the RCH synod and at the former community center of the Refugee Ministry, but this year the Scottish Mission played host once again to the group of around 80 people.
Those in attendance were Muslims, Christians, and Agnostics; they came from around the world, from Guinea, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and beyond. People from every economic and social class came together during this beautiful time of community, from those who have stable jobs to those who are still looking for work, and even those who are living on a volunteer stipend. In this eclectic group, none of this mattered. The most important thing was the sense of community and love that was tangible in the very air.
The evening began with a conversation hour where guests mingled and caught up; introductions were made for newcomers and those who had been before chatted with old friends. A group of Muslims and Christians soon broke off from the rest to decorate the Christmas tree in the middle of the sanctuary; children danced around with tinsel in their hands and ornaments were hung with care. When the time came to gather for the Christmas meal, a delicious mixture of Bangladeshi and Turkish food was brought out for the main course, and then traditional Hungarian desserts and cakes were brought out later. Community members swarmed the table in an excited chatter and filled their plates with the colorful and nourishing food, handmade by clients that Dóra and her staff have helped along the way.
The meal lasted for hours as people milled about, talking and tasting all the delicious morsels that were available. The chairs in the sanctuary, where the meal was served, were set up in one large circle, making it easy for the conversation to continue to flow as people worked their way around the room. Children shrieked with joy and played with the new friends they made while their parents rested and watched from afar. Smiles abounded throughout the evening as new friends entered, old companions reconnected, and the joy of the holiday season spread.
It would have been easy to characterize the people in the room by their differences: their country of origin, the language they spoke, and the religion they followed. Instead, however, everyone came together and focused on all of the things they had in common: a love of good food, the infectious joy emanating from the little ones, and the desire for unity in a time where so many things in the world try to divide us.
As we enter into the New Year, may this extraordinary night of ecumenical, interfaith, and international celebration continue to set the tone for the days to come. May we view those around us as new friends to greet and focus on all of the important ways in which we are all part of one, big, human family.
The Refugee Ministry of the RCH has done a fantastic job of cultivating a rich community through their work, and it’s now up to us to learn from their example and spread this to the wider world.