Being a Multicultural Church

What would a multi-cross-cultural Christmas look like?

Indonesian Christmas Celebration held at Glen Waverley Uniting Church attended by more than 150 people of different cultural and faith backgrounds

By Rev. Dr Matagi Vilitama, Being a Multicultural Church Advocate

It’s mind boggling to imagine more than 2.4 billion people celebrating Christmas around the globe.

Here in Australia, our First Peoples make up 3.3% of the population, there are more than 42% people of British and Irish ancestry, approximately 2.3% Kiwis, 5% of Chinese ancestry, 1.5% Indian, 1% Italian, roughly 1% Pacific Islanders and many others.

That’s not counting those from the African, Middle Eastern and Asian backgrounds who contribute to the colour, sound and fragrance of the festive celebrations.

With a diversity of cultural expressions and culinary arts, I imagine a multi-cross-cultural Christmas to be spectacular and wonder-full. 

Imagine the colour, the songs, the dances and costumes – oh – and the food!

It’s probably the one day of the year – other than Easter – that most Christians attend and celebrate in worship services around the country. 

For many busy Christian migrants, Christmas is one of the times when their favourite food of home is shared with family and friends amidst many other multicultural dishes including the famous Aussie barbecue. 

For many indigenous communities, Christmas is a season for family to reconnect and reaffirm familial ties. The Pacific Islanders, for instance, the concept of fakafetuiaga (Niuean) / fetu’utaki’anga (Tongan) / solesolevaki (Fijian) is significant in the context of Christmas.

These are the occasions when families and communities invest in social and communal cohesiveness.

In a postmodern world where “individualism” undergirds and defines the social norms, Christmas gathering and church fellowship reminds us of the importance of family and community.

The Fijian veiwekani, Niuean magafaoa, Armenian endanik or the Chinese 親属关系 (family) is also affirmed in this context. Jesus was born into a Jewish family of Mary and Joseph, albeit descendants of ancestors that included gentiles such as Rahab the Canaanite prostitute and Ruth the Moabite.

Whilst Matthew gave us Jesus’ genealogy that stops with Abraham, Luke’s one includes us by taking it further back to Adam. We are of the same family.

Christmas in a multi-cross-cultural context reminds us about this fellowship that extends beyond familial boundaries.

The practice of Christmas fellowship for many cultures involves reciprocating beyond families. Now family in Middle-Eastern Arabic is Ahl which is also used in greetings (ahlan). It is that family relationship that is the root of the act of hospitality. Christian hospitality is grounded in God’s giving of his Son and the selfless giving of Christ himself.

Christmas umu (earth oven that symbolises communal feasting) implies hospitality that extends to the “other” and the less fortunate in the community.

There are many in our communities who are in need of our company and a kind word. We have so much wealth, so much privilege and yet so many are lonely.

Christmas reminds us that we are of the same family. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” (Isaiah 9:6).

At Christmas, God is reminding us that love is the greatest gift. God came to us in the birth of Jesus.

Friends, this Christmas season, do your best to be there with your family and friends. Being there in person can be the most wonderful gift you can give others. There is hardly anything that can replace physical presence.

If you cannot be present with your loved ones for one reason or another, technology can do wonders for us. Call them, spend a moment on FaceTime or on Messenger and speak with your loved ones.

Think of those within your circle of companions who may not have the privilege of family or friends; visit, call or send them a message. Be intentional in reaching out with a Christmas cheer to the people who are of a different culture and background. Expect to receive and learn as you reciprocate gifts of grace with them. 

On behalf of the Being a Multicultural Church Circle I’d like to wish you all a most blessed and Merry Christmas. May the new year bring joy and new opportunities. Amen.