Christmas in East Asia: The Lisu Christmas Feast
Nearly 100 years ago, China Inland Mission missionary J.O. Fraser had worked for six years among the Lisu people in China with little spiritual fruit. After much prayer (by himself, other missionaries and prayer supporters back home), God moved powerfully among the Lisu, a previously animistic and spiritually-oppressed people in the mountains of Southwest China, Burma, and Thailand. An indigenous church planting movement soon began, with Lisu believers leading scores of other Lisu villages and families to Christ. The conversion of the Lisu is one of the greatest stories in mission history. Today, there are an estimated 300,000 Lisu Christians in China, with more among the Lisu living in Myanmar and Thailand. One of the main events on the Lisu calendar is the Christmas Feast held every December. Below is a description of the celebration as told by a Lisu Christian.
“The Christmas celebration is one of the two most important events of the year for Lisu Christians. The other is Easter Sunday, which is celebrated in a similar way as Christmas.
“It is a long and much anticipated event for us Lisu. Previously, when most travelling was done on foot, some believers walked for several days to get to the village where the Christmas celebration took place.
“For them, the day they started walking to the Christmas party was the beginning of the celebration. They sang Christmas songs as they walked through the valleys, over the mountains and along the rivers. They held Christmas worship services at night in the jungle until they arrived at the village.
Even today, Christmas is a major gathering and celebrated for four-to-five days, usually between December 23-27. Christmas party invitation letters are usually sent out in October to the Lisu churches in the area. Pastors and Bible teachers are asked to prepare sermons for the gathering. Others are asked to prepare songs and dances. Everyone attending should bring enough blankets, rice and money to last for the duration of the time. Churches start practicing the songs and dances as soon as they receive the letter.
Once reaching the village where the Christmas party is held, people from the same village are assigned to stay in one or two homes depending on the size of the group. The size of the gathering varies depending on the area or the country. In some places, the gathering may include people from 20 or 50 different villages. In China, Myanmar and Thailand, the gatherings always exceed 1,000 people. Especially in China and Myanmar, the gathering can be up to 5,000 people. Christmas is such a large gathering for Lisu Christians that only big villages with enough houses and resources can host the Christmas party in their village.
Three worship services are held every day, plus an extra sermon in the noon service. During the services, we hear many songs from different villages. We have two meals a day together, breakfast and lunch. The villagers cook the meals for everyone who comes to the party. Night times are state show times, with people from different villages singing and dancing happily.
Christmas is a great event for Lisu Christians. Sharing the same house with friends—old and young, man and woman—for several days is fun. Having breakfast and dinner together with more than 1,000 people every day is wonderful. Listening to hundreds of songs by people from different villages and hearing four sermons from four different preachers every day is fantastic.
The following books may be purchased from OMF Books (through Davidson Publishing, OMF International’s authorized bookseller in the U.S.).
· Mountain Rain: A Powerful Story of Total Dependence on God by Eileen Fraser Crossman, 1982
· Behind the Ranges: The Life-Changing Story of JO Fraser by Geraldine Taylor, 1998.
· The Isobel Kuhn Trilogy (By Searching, 1957; In the Arena, 1960; Nests Above the Abyss, 1947)