Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas in Afghanistan 2010

Note:  While I had a great Christmas many in Afghanistan did not.  I salute all who have and are serving.  Remember groups like the USO which keep soldiers in touch with their families and spiritual groups like the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA who serve deep needs (a priest just visited forces in Wardak who went over half a year without any chaplain of any faith).

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Afghanistan!

In a time where Palestinian Christians' celebrations are curbed, Indonesian services banned, and a Filipino mass bombed, I do not have much to complain about even though I am in Afghanistan.  In fact, this Christmas was a bit of an adventure and much better than the one in Iraq (which involved a military chaplain inventing his own words for the Lord's prayer).  So let me tell you about my Afghan/Polish/American Christmas.

Starting off Christmas Eve:  Challenging Afghans with Guns

As noted earlier, one of the best ways to make friends in Afghanistan is with a rifle.  I started off Christmas Eve by visiting the local Afghan National Police (ANP) shooting range.  After a short introduction I challenged them to a rifle/pistol contest.  The local Hazara and Tajik ANP take their weapon skills very seriously and eagerly arose to the occasion.  They picked "Bashir" to be their champion against me.  I held my own with the pistol.  However, Bashir scored direct hit after direct hit with the rifle.  In the end he easily pulled ahead and won the challenge.  After congratulating Bashir and Afghan playful teasing against me, I was invited to their evening meal of goat and rice.  Their meal served as sort of a Christmas party as they all wished me a "happy Christmas and good New Year."

Polish Mass:  That Was a Party

Don't let the photo of the chapel fool you.  It got so packed that any fire marshal would have shut down the mass if they knew.
I was able to attend midnight mass on a military base.  However, the only mass within a 100 or so miles was in Polish so I knew I was in for a unique experience.  I arrived early and sat next to another American, an Air Force medic.  She and I quickly realized that we were among the only Americans in a room packed full of Poles.  Another woman joined us, a "Polish Ann Chaplin" (PAC), who will become important soon.

So mass started and I could figure out what is being said because of Roman Catholic masses have the same order around the world.  Or at least that is what I thought.  After the gospel reading the tradition of love bread or oplatek occurred.  PAC instructed me to take a large square wafer that was on a plate being passed around and break the wafer into two.  I gave her one half and I kept the other.  She then told me to break off a little bit of her's and eat it.  I did.  She wished me a Merry Christmas and broke off and ate a bit of my wafer.  I explained to the American next to me what was going on to the best of my abilities.  We then wished each other a Merry Christmas and ate a little bit of each other's wafer.  What occurred next was fifteen minutes of the choir/band doing Polish Christmas songs with enough energy to power a small city while everyone shared their oplatek and wished each other a Merry Christmas.

Communion took over twenty minutes as everyone massed in line for the one priest to hand it out.  Interestingly, all the Poles received it in the mouth (most Americans relieve it in hand and place it in the mouth themselves).  The American medic was the only one to accept it in the hands.  Meanwhile the Polish music group played even more energetic Polish Christmas songs.  The mass marking the birth of Christ was truly a celebratory event.

The Christmas Meal:  Lamb and Goat and Naan, Oh My!

As you can tell I did not suffer this Christmas
I managed to integrate myself and those working with me with some other Americans to make one big Christmas meal.  A military officer managed to acquire a goat, a lamb, and several pounds of naan.  After the goat and lamb were dispatched a barbecue began.  Local Afghan charcoal was used to feed the barbecue fire.  Needless to say the cooking took hours yet proved to be a good boding experience between various military and non-military personnel.  Once the cooking was done I had the best lamb and naan I have ever had in my life.  There was nothing like having hot food, good company, and a fire barrel.

Bringing Americana to Afghanistan:  Carolers!

The eastern part of Afghanistan right now does put one in the Christmas spirit.  The lack of snow, the sound of artillery firing, watching a vehicle burn after it was hit by an IED, and constant threats by the Taliban can put anyone in a funk.  However, when driven into extreme situations people will join together to make life bearable.  Case in point were these carolers who helped bring Christmas cheer to a small corner of Afghanistan.  What a great way to end Christmas in Afghanistan.


Dan tdaxp said...

What a wonderful Christmas post! Thank you for sharing how you celebrated!

PigBag said...

Always interesting ! Thanks for posting.

Catholicgauzette said...

How interesting!

How do the locals get the charcoal? Do they make it?

I'm glad you had a great Christmas!