Emeritus Missionaries Remember Christmas in Spain

By Ralphine Major

They met in Michigan, though both couples were from Tennessee. Missionaries Howard and Joyce Nighbert Clark were on their first stateside assignment in 1986. The Clarks shared their need to have someone pastor their church when they took their next stateside assignment in December 1988. Long-time Wallace Memorial Baptist Church Pastor Jim McCluskey and his wife, Lib, expressed interest.

In my Focus column 1-7-19, the McCluskeys shared their most memorable of all “Christmases Past.” Later, I caught up with the Clarks. “We have many memories of Christmases in Spain,” Joyce said. “The first was our Christmas Eve service with our small fellowship of believers in the Spanish Baptist Church building which had been built with Lottie Moon Christmas Offerings. After our Christmas Eve service, we attended Midnight Mass or Misa de Gallo. This was held in the largest church in the Spanish speaking world. It was dedicated to Mary-Virgin del Pilar and had beautiful ceilings painted by the famous painter Goya. The highlight of the Christmas Eve service was the beautiful singing by the boys’ choir. The priest held a small doll representing Jesus. As the long line of worshipers went forward to receive communion, each would kiss the “doll.”

As the Clarks shared more about their years of service in Spain, the different customs of Spain’s Christmas celebrations became even more evident. Not long after going to bed on Christmas Eve, they heard a knock on their third floor apartment door and were invited downstairs to spend Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) with some new friends. The custom was to stay up all night eating, talking, and playing games. They learned that Christians of all faiths attend services on Christmas Day regardless of the day of the week, and the baby was never added to the Christmas scenes until Christmas Day. Though many children received gifts both for Christmas and 3 Kings Day, the largest and most important was 3 Kings Day. Children would sit on a king’s lap to tell what they wanted. During the parade, the kings rode on camels as they waved to the children.

The Clarks served 16 years with the International Mission Board, eight of those in Zaragoza (northern Spain) and eight years on the Atlantic coast in Rota (southern Spain). “We had shared with the McCluskeys that Christmas trees were not a part of the custom in Spain, so Lib brought a suitcase and pulled out her tree already decorated and left it for us,” Joyce said. “We have enjoyed using the Christmas tree for the last 30 years whether we are at home or away.” This year, the treasured little tree that has traveled from Tennessee to Spain and back again made its way with the Clarks to Middle Tennessee for their Christmas celebration!

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