I was a missionary serving in Sendai, Japan. Early in December we had a heavy snow, which was unusual for Sendai’s mild climate. As my companion and I were leaving the apartment that morning, we noticed our neighbors trying to clear the snow from the parking lot so the cars could get out. No one had snow shovels, so housewives and kids were trying to remove the deep blanket of snow with whatever they had. My companion and I armed ourselves with frying pans and dustpans and joined our neighbors. I had never had so much fun clearing snow before. When the parking lot was cleared, we poured some hot water on our bike chains and gears to unfreeze them and went tracting.
As we tracted that day and throughout the month of December, I noticed my companion making notes as we left some of the houses. We were having a terrible month with very few teaching opportunities, and I finally asked him what he was doing. He replied that he was simply making a list of people who were nice to us, even if they weren’t interested in our message.
As Christmas got closer, my companion and I really started to catch the spirit of the season. We went to the nearby canal bank where some evergreens were growing and cut off a branch. In our apartment, we stuck the branch in a two-liter glass bottle and hung Japanese coins on the branch as ornaments. We strung Styrofoam packing peanuts on dental floss and wrapped them around the branch. Since the branch was too flimsy to support our tin-foil star, we suspended it from the ceiling with dental floss so it hung about two inches above the top of the branch. We decorated our wall with Christmas cards we received from home. Altogether, we thought the apartment looked very festive.
The streets became snow packed, with two ruts where the cars would drive. We would ride our bikes down the outside rut in the road. When a car approached, we’d climb up onto the snowbank with our bikes to let it pass. As we rode, we would sing Christmas carols at the top of our lungs, which was quite a feat in the cold winter air as we panted in our hurry to reach our destination.
On Christmas morning, my companion woke up early and made a racket in the kitchen. I was looking forward to a big breakfast, but when I finally wandered into the kitchen, all I got was a piece of toast. Instead of a Christmas breakfast, my companion had baked chocolate chip cookies to take around the neighborhood.
After we opened the presents we had received from home, we used the wrapping paper from our gifts to wrap copies of the Book of Mormon. Using the list my companion had made of people who were nice to us, we delivered plates of cookies and gift-wrapped copies of the Book of Mormon to the people on the list. Many of them were surprised to see us again, but we explained that on Christmas it’s customary to give presents to your neighbors. We told them that the present we gave them was precious because it contained the word of God and His Son, Jesus Christ, whose birth is commemorated at Christmastime. Most of them seemed touched that we would return to their home with a gift, and many scrambled back inside and returned with bags of oranges or persimmons to give to us. Many of the people we visited that day accepted the discussions as a result of our service.
As we returned to our apartment that evening, I felt very peaceful and content. That holiday season I realized more than ever before that Christmas is all about Christ. It is easy to see that the focus of His life was service. As we try to emulate His life, the Christmas season presents a unique opportunity to serve our fellow men and open doors to share the gospel with them. I’m grateful for that memorable missionary Christmas that taught me what the true spirit of Christmas really is.