A letter from my brother Tom… Christmas day in Pakistan

Current Affairs / World Mission

Tom is a US Army doctor serving right now in Pakistan helping with Quake relief efforts. His wife Denise and their children Brooke and Sam are in Germany at the Army base he’s been stationed at for the last 3 years…

It was 0530 in the morning on the 26th of December. Christmas in Pakistan came and went and my disillusionment had hit its peak. Through the phone I heard the excitement in Sam and Brooke’s tales of gifts they collected, I heard the sounds of my friends enjoying the day and I heard the strength in Denise’s voice as she continued our life in my absence. I heard these things, but I wasn’t listening. My thoughts were distracted. I missed Christmas Morning with my family and friends. I missed the chance to give my family the gifts I gathered in Pakistan. I missed the warmth and comfort of a normal bed. And I missed indoor plumbing.

It was thirty minutes ago when I felt the joy of Christmas. Over the past two weeks I’ve had to cover night shift in the ER. 14 hour shifts 6 days a week was taking its tool. I was lying down in an empty ICU trying to pass the time when a nurse entered and began to talk to her husband on the phone. I couldn’t help but overhear some of the conversation. As I heard her describe the gifts she received and the activities she shared with the families of her inpatients, her words reminded me of what our presence here means.

The last day of Ramadan is called Eid. Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan by creating extravagant feasts, traveling to their relatives houses, exchanging gifts, and wearing new clothes. Only on these very special holidays do Muslim women of Pakistan use a vegetable dye to paint beautiful temporary tattoos on their palms called hina. To a Muslim, the Eid after Ramadan is their Christmas. In November, we were privileged to observe our Pakistani friends celebrate Eid. Today was our turn.

To those of us on night shift, very little about the 25th of December was different from any other day. As a physician treating up to 50 patients a day in the primary care tent, I have been fully immersed into the Pakistani people’s lives. But on the 25th of December only sleep deprivation and a painfully slow night shift awaited.

As the nurse explained her Christmas experience to her husband, I began to understand what Christmas meant to me this year. The gifts our Pakistani friends gave today, the cakes and special foods the Pakistani’s brought for our celebration and the hina that the Pakistani women painted on our soldiers’ palms was a tribute to our cultures acceptance of each other. To me, Christmas in Pakistan means to not only respect other ways of life, but also to embrace the unique differences in our religions and traditions. I’ll remember this Christmas for a long time.

Merry Christmas


The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...