Doug Robinson: Finding Christmas in America

Published: Monday, Dec. 23 2013 7:55 p.m. MST

Remembering the Christmases of her youth, she says, “It is not associated with what it is here — the traffic, the shoppers, the busy stores.”

In the passenger seat of her car is a small stack of presents. When this is pointed out to her, she smiles and says: “I feel obligated to do it here. I’m going to deliver gifts for friends.”

Rosette and her four children share an apartment down the road. Devout Christians, they read the Bible and pray daily. They have been here 10 months and are preparing for their first Christmas in America.

When Rosette is asked about Santa Claus, she shows no sign of recognition. Her son Dieudone tries to help. “Pere Noel,” he says to her — Father Christmas. When this doesn’t work, he mimes an imaginary beard and that does it. She says through a French interpreter that she saw Santa and Christmas decorations on TV.

“I like Noel in America,” she says in English. “Now I can see it. I like, like, like.”

Dieudone learned about Santa through magazine photos in Congo. His sister loves Pere Noel "with his red hat and the beard like Abraham.” Their Christmas was much like their countrywoman Christine’s. They gather as a family, they eat together, don colorful outfits, sing and dance, and go to church. Christmas trees are for the wealthy.

“Here is good,” Rosette says. “I see the decorations. I open the door and there are people bringing gifts. They don’t do this in Africa.”

When she is asked if it’s difficult to come to America, she speaks French again to the interpreter, Kendrick LaFleur, who served this neighborhood as a bishop for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "It’s not easy for those who don’t believe in God," she says. "God gave me America. Me happy, happy. I have faith God will protect me and guide me and open doors. I have hope.”

Ask her what Christmas is, she doesn’t miss a beat, telling the translator, “God is love. He loves us so much he gave his son. We celebrate the birth of his son.”

This recalls one more revealing moment from “God Grew Tired of Us,” in which a Sudanese refugee observes: “You have so many things to use to celebrate the Christmas. What we have in Africa is also good, but ours is mainly celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, that Jesus Christ is going to be born in our heart. So we prepare ourselves spiritually.”

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com

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