getty images

Quite a number of years ago, when I was still in my teens, I lived in Ivory Coast for one year with my parents. I spent just one Christmas there, and it was a very special one. 
In Africa, the Holiday Spirit is always difficult enough to get into as it is. The usual seasonal trappings are not there to see, or smell or hear. 90⁰ temperatures and palm trees are not the most common Christmas decor for some of us. 
I had not been overwhelmingly excited at the idea of going to a mission in the bush of Western Africa for Christmas. Any other time of the year, yes, fantastic, but just not at THAT time of the year. We could do that all year round from Abidjan if we wished. 
Well, the trip was to be a strong reality check for me. The reality of lives of great need, the reality of generosity in the most abject privation and the reality of true selflessness. It was there, obvious, in every corner of the mission and the village. 

The mission was a group of very simple buildings something like these.

The decorations were few and very humble yet they managed to convey the warmth of the Holiday. 

The village children sang African songs and French Christmas Carols, taught to them by the French missionaries. A lively, charmingly unruly group of adorable young carolers.

We were offered a delicious meal of the Ivory coast staple Attieke, a fermented manioc that tastes somewhat like a yeasty couscous. It is served with chicken and a very concentrated tomato sauce. We ate with great appetite under a tent with the heads of the village and the missionaries . We later found out that the village had sacrificed every single one of its chickens for the occasion. I went back to the tent to retrieve my sunglasses at one point, and found the little carolers eating the remainder of our meal in our plates...
images getty images, icm.org, ankastreasures, travelpod, cookingnana (these images have been altered for effect)

The short but very formal ceremony- my father was bestowing the Légion d'Honneur on the head missionary- was very simple and extremely moving. The love of the village for this man was so evident and very sincere. 
A well deserved pickup truck full of chicken crates arrived at the village a few days later. Nothing could have been more deserved.
No Noël with overdecorated trees, no plump golden turkeys, no winter chill and no beribboned presents on Christmas day that year.

Something completely different.
A true Christmas not easily forgotten.
Very modest and truly generous villagers, somewhere in Africa, so clearly remembered, so often thanked, if only in my mind.

P.S.: My heart goes out to the people of Ivory Coast at this time of turmoil. 
My best wishes to them for a decent life. 
Against so many odds.

au revoir.

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