“Feliz Navidad”: Christmas in Betel
Over the last twenty-five years, twenty-four Christmases have been spent in a Betel community, either in Spain or Argentina. In Latin culture the main celebration for families, “Noche Buena” (The Good Night), is on Christmas Eve. The family (usually extended family) will have a big dinner together at 9 pm or later and then see Christmas Day in at midnight. However, if you’re a drug addict or alcoholic, Christmas time is party time - or street time - with all it involves, including hangover, withdrawal, crime, violence, maybe overdose or even death. It can be a time to get high or to plunge into depression.
So how do we do Christmas in rehab? No-one goes home for a family Christmas, not even the leaders or pastors. And as we don’t want people to forfeit their rehab by leaving the centre at this time, it is the pastors’ and house leaders’ job to provide a good alternative.
In Betel Valencia, in Spain, we performed a Christmas play each year in church on the Sunday before Christmas, and everyone got involved; we practised the play, prepared the costumes and scenery, organised lighting and sound. Family members who lived close enough were invited to attend and usually were pleasantly surprised to see their addict son or daughter in a Christmas play! For many, participation in this production is when they begin to understand what Christmas is all about and the reason for Jesus coming into this world.
For “Noche Buena” we plan a special meal, which we eat together in the church or one of the community houses, depending on the facilities, and everyone has their part to prepare. Of course there are decorations and after-dinner entertainment, which usually includes a visit from Father Christmas with gifts for young and old. For some even a simple gift like a pair of socks is touching, because for a long time they have cut themselves off from normal Christmas festivities or have been out of touch with their families.
On New Year’s Eve we plan another dinner, usually something less formal. In some centres it will be a themed fancy dress party, usually followed by a talent show with songs, skits and games to see in the new year.
What makes Christmas in a Betel community worth it? There is always at least one who says:
“I never knew you could enjoy Christmas without drugs and alcohol!”