Christmas can be a tough time to be a missionary, particularly now with the younger ages missionaries serve, and even more during a pandemic where contact with others is limited and risky. I recently had a call from the missionaries in our new area we moved, and they inquired about coming over to “share a message.” I have a daughter this same age, and my heart goes out to the missionaries who are away from home for their first Christmas ever.
When I was a missionary, it wasn’t my first Christmas out on my own since sisters couldn’t serve until age 21. I had lived away from home for 3 years already, although I did fly home from college for the holidays. Still, I wasn’t wallowing in homesickness because my parents’ home had already become a place to visit, not a place to live. There’s a holiday special (half off) on my mission memoir, The Legend of Hermana Plunge. Here’s an excerpt from my Christmas chapter. I was serving on the island of La Palma, training my second missionary, and there were 3 other veteran elders in the district, all of whom were also training new missionaries. Our newbies had just arrived that month, so they were green indeed.
The holidays were approaching, and our families were on the other side of the world. With four new missionaries in our charge, we decided that we’d come together as a district to make things festive. We drew names for a $10 Secret Santa gift exchange and also agreed to do a white elephant gift exchange from something we found in our luggage. For decorations I made a construction paper Christmas tree that I taped to the wall of our chapl-piso. Since we didn’t carry a lot of things in our luggage anyway, I was having a hard time thinking of what to put in the gift exchange.
“I literally have nothing good. I have photos. That’s about it. I could put in a picture of myself,” I said in exasperation as I tried to come up with an idea for the gift exchange.
“No, Hermana,” Banks said in her sweetest voice. “Not a picture of a white elephant.” Delicious burn! That’s when I knew we were going to be great friends.The Legend of Hermana Plunge, Chapter 18
With brand new trainees, only one and a half active Church members, and a hostile yet very religious populace around us, we rationalized that we weren’t hurting anyone by having a holiday party as a district. Four of the elders were assigned to the other side of the island, but since they hadn’t yet found a house to rent, they were crashing with the elders who were just up the street from our place. We four veterans were all pretty good friends already, and our four newbies were still bewildered by everything happening around them. It was one of the best times I ever had on my mission and probably one of the best Christmas memories of my life.
Christmas Eve was on a Sunday, so we met after church for our meal and holiday party. We had a feast of turkey, ham, corn, and mashed potatoes that Elder Cooper made us with Millard’s cheesecake for dessert. We took turns reading the Christmas story together. Then we exchanged our real gifts and our white elephant gifts. . . I got a Calvin and Hobbes book with a missing cover than I had been coveting for months. As a non-scripture book without objectionable content, it had made the rounds through various missionaries.
We had a spontaneous water fight and got soaked. It was so rowdy that someone shattered one of the bathroom lights over the sink…
Elder McIvor said that our group was kind of like the Breakfast Club: a weird mix of misfits who eventually ended up bonding and being friends. He claimed the Judd Nelson role for himself. They agreed that with my short red hair I looked more like Molly Ringwald’s Claire role, but if one of us was the Princess, it had to be the statuesque Hermana Banks, so I was relegated to the Basket Case. Goldman, eager to be identified as a character, was deemed by consensus the janitor.
We decided to play a game of Spoons like a BYU Family Home Evening group might do. . . As the game began, Andrews very quickly started passing cards back to me that he knew I was collecting so we would be the first to get a set and grab spoons. It took the others a really long time to catch on that we were cheating.The Legend of Hermana Plunge, Chapter 18
As the evening wound down, one of the veteran elders and acting Branch President of our teeny tiny branch fell asleep. He was a well-known sleep-talker, and Elder Cooper had lots of experience with a former sleep-talking companion. We took turns introducing hilarious suggestions to this elder while he was sleeping, revealing all sorts of judgmental thoughts he had about all of us and our leaders.
“Elder Millard, where are you?” Cooper asked.
He answered in a snippy voice, sounding like a disapproving Spanish grandmother, “I’m right here, in the piso. We need to get to work, Elder.”
“The Hermanas are here,” ventured Elder Cooper. I shot him a glare. “It’s Hermana Banks and Liscom.”
“Hermana Liscom’s nasty! She’s a flirt,” he said. So much for friendship!
Elder Cooper was giggling between his teeth, trying not to make a sound. “But she wants to give you a kiss,” he added. This seemed like it was going a bit far, but Elder Cooper was the sleep-talking expert, so I went along, touching Millard’s face lightly with two of my fingers.
Elder Millard furiously wiped away the “kisses,” protesting this un-missionary-like behavior. “Que va! (As if!) Stop it!” he cried, very alarmed, his distress increasing. I was afraid he was going to wake up if we didn’t dial it down.
Heightening the drama, Elder Cooper reintroduced himself into the dream. “Elder Millard, what happened? Did Hermana Liscom try to kiss you?”
“Yes, but I told her NO!” he cried with indignation.
Next, Elder McIvor jumped in. “Elder Millard, Hermana Banks is here. She needs a blessing.” This seemed like a much safer line of dream management.
“Que va! Tell her she needs to go on a diet,” he rejoined. Oof! So much for that. Apparently no one was safe.
I noticed Elder Andrews, Elder Millard’s companion, skulking in the corner, laughing at these revelations, but so far unscathed, so I decided to bring him into the dream. “Elder Millard, Elder Andrews is here.”
He made a disapproving noise in his throat. “He’s lazy,” he confided in a stage whisper, not wanting Andrews to overhear.
Yikes. I felt kind of bad that he was trashing his newbie, so I tried to remedy things. “No, he says he’s ready to get to work,” I ventured weakly.
“Que va!” he said in disbelief, clucking his tongue and wagging his finger back and forth. He didn’t seem to have anything more to add. Elder Andrews hung back, leaning against the doorway with his eyebrows raised and a smirk on his face.
Wondering what he thought of our zone leader (who was on a neighboring island) I queried, “Hey, Elder Millard, the zone leaders are on the phone. They want to know your numbers.”
“Tell them to blow it out their ass,” he replied testily. We were on the floor at this point, holding our sides with laughter, trying hard not to wake him. We kept having to leave the room to regain our composure.
Elder Cooper added, “They say President wants to know what’s going on with you and Hermana Liscom.”
He quickly threw me under the bus. “She’s nasty. I didn’t do anything! She tried to kiss me! I told her no!”
“But, Elder Millard, did you want to kiss her?” Elder Cooper asked, coyly.
A very long pause, and then a quiet, “Yes.”The Legend of Hermana Plunge, Chapter 18
It was a rather raucous mission Christmas, probably not ideal from a missionary handbook perspective, but it certainly boosted our camaraderie and morale and made it much easier to go out into the streets in the coming weeks where we were insulted by children, had rocks and oranges hurled at us, had our sunglasses stolen by growling weirdos in a Cathedral, and were groped in a pickup game of basketball with some local tweens.
- If you served a mission, what was Christmas like away from home? Were you homesick? Did you celebrate with other missionaries? Was it fun and memorable or pathetic and Charlie Brown Christmas-y?
- Did you ever have a sleep-talking roommate or companion? Did they entertain you with their unfiltered unconscious comments?
- Do you think Christmas is harder for missionaries now that they are younger, and particularly during the pandemic? Do you know what the local missionaries in your area are doing to make the holiday noteworthy?
- Was your “mission Christmas” like mine or totally different?
 Not my favorite thing, TBH. It feels so canned and contrived. Can’t we just be normal people, get to know you, hear about your families and lives, and share fun stories?
 My companion and I lived in an apartment in a business building, and the apartment we lived in doubled as the chapel. Unfortunately, this meant the nearby elders had keys to our place, and routinely stopped by when we weren’t there to use the toilet and eat my Polander All Fruit jam.