Wishes Beneath the Tree
Long before Umida met Abror, she wanted to visit the United States during Christmas. She had no desire to move here, until she and Abror realized their dream of ministering to Unbelievers in Uzbekistan meant moving to America, but she dreamed of what it would be like to freely celebrate the birth of Christ in the Western tradition.
Uzbeks celebrate in a very Christmas-like way at New Year’s. They put up and decorate a tree. They exchange gifts. They share traditional meals with family and friends. During Umida’s childhood this was the highlight of the year and everyone looked forward to it.
When Umida became a Believer, December 25th took on a new meaning. Her desire to celebrate Christ’s birth in a glorious way became even more urgent when she began to babysit for some missionaries in her city. She observed for herself the joy shared by Christians at the Nativity of Our Lord and of course, they told her stories of their celebrations back in the States.
Now Umida, Abror, and their family live in the US and are free to celebrate Christmas with all the trimmings. Her Christmas wish came true – just not as she expected it to.
Christmas in Uzbekistan Today
Asked to describe Christmas in Uzbekistan today, Umida shared these observations:
- The country’s few Christians celebrate the birth of Christ while the majority of the population knows little of its meaning.
- The country is predominantly Muslim with a history of 70 years of Soviet atheism. Most Christians are Orthodox and they celebrate Christmas on January 7th.
- For most Uzbeks, Christmas has no religious content and its celebrations blend with those of the New Year.
- Under Soviet rule, all religious traditions, be they Christian or Muslim, were neglected. The current regime, fearful of Islamic terrorism, has limited religious freedom and maintains a close watch over all religions.
- For the Uzbek media religion does not exist and is rarely spoken of. Christmas is no different. When mentioned at all, it is devoid of religious aspects and is only discussed as something celebrated around the world.
- Christmas symbols and decorations like those found in Europe or the US adorn the streets of Uzbekistan’s main cities, including the capital Tashkent. For most people Christmas is just part of New Year celebrations, an occasion for getting together with friends. But for some it is so closely associated with Christianity and foreigners they reject it altogether – including the tree.
- For the country’s small Christian community, December 25 remains the birthday of Jesus and a time of joy. They get together and sing Christmas songs which were translated into Uzbek language from English or other languages.
- In spite of the limited and non religious-oriented media coverage, local Christians are not discouraged and see the positive side. For some, ever hopeful, even the limited exposure of religious events is important because things might change and the media might start talking about religious celebrations of all the country’s religious communities.
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