I Heard the Cow Bells on Christmas Day – A Guest Post


In the almost three years since I began blogging I have wanted my mom to write a post for Communicating Across Boundaries. And today is the day. Today she’ll take you to a small city in Pakistan and a Christmas where the cow bell on the outer door rang all day long. It was indeed, for those who are Will Ferrell fans, ‘More Cowbell’. Those of you who lived in Pakistan will be familiar with Christmases that aren’t about family, but about community celebrating the birth of Christ.


It was the doorbell.  The carolers left just before midnight for the first service of Christmas Day in the small church, and our whole family went with them.  A small Christian community lived in this very Muslim city 300 miles north of Karachi. Christmas was their Big Day and they began it with the men of the church going out on Christmas Eve to sing carols at each Christian home. The night was cold, so I served them steaming cups of chai and Christmas cookies after they sang in our living room. We came back from church at about one in the morning; Ralph to fill the kid’s stockings, and I to do the cleanup.  Our children, Stan and Tom, Marilyn and Dan were soon snug in their beds.

The next day would be busy, but I had no idea when my head hit the pillow that our cow bell on the outside door across the yard wouldn’t ring for the last time until eight that evening.

Our day began early. Even though the children weren’t small – two were teenagers – they were up early excited with their stockings.  Before we could have our breakfast, the bell rang.  A family, the only Christians in their village, had come in to spend this special day with Christians in town.  The Pastor who lived next door invited them to share their breakfast and I told them to come for tea with us after the Christmas service.  We ate our cinnamon rolls with scrambled eggs and tea, then hurried to be ready for church.

The door bell rang again.  Two young men came in asking for something they needed to finish decorating the church. After the longer than normal service we greeted everyone there, and were wished all the blessings of this Big Day.  I was about to leave for home when Elizabeth and her brother Shokat stopped me to ask a favor.  “Auntie, could we come to your house this afternoon and make a cake?  We want to take it to the chief surgeon at the Civil Hospital where our sister works.” The whole family shared the small house allotted to their sister, a midwife at the hospital.  When I hesitated momentarily thinking about a baking project in my small kitchen on Christmas Day, Elizabeth reassured me, “Don’t worry, Auntie.  Remember, you showed us girls how to make a cake last month.  We’ll bring all the things we need.  We just need your cake pans and the oven.” I assured them it would be fine if they came at one or two o’clock.

As soon as we got into the house, people started to come.  The local Catholic nuns came, the family from the village, a few Muslim friends, nurses from the hospital.  So many people who had become part of our lives in the community in the nearly four years we had lived here. I kept on making fresh pots of tea and refilling plates with Christmas goodies from our kitchen as well as sweets and savory snacks from the bazaar. Marilyn and the boys were right there helping.  I calculated that we washed every tea-cup in the house three times. Elizabeth and Shokat baked their cake at some point with only minimal help from me.  During the late afternoon I managed to put our Christmas dinner together – no turkeys in our market.  Our choice was chicken or goose and this year it was roast chickens, prepared for roasting the day before.

But before we could sit down to our family dinner, the doorbell rang again.

“Oh no” was my silent thought. I didn’t think I had any energy left to serve even one more cup of tea. But we couldn’t ignore that cow bell.  One of the boys went to answer the door and returned with a woman from the local sweeper colony. I knew her as the mother of two teenage girls I was teaching to read. She came to thank me for how I was helping her daughters. And she had carried a large basket of fruit from the bazaar as a gift for me. I was overwhelmed to think that I hadn’t even wanted to open the door.

Late in the evening, as we sat around singing carols as a family and opening the gifts we had wrapped for each other, I looked around at our children and I thought about this Christmas Day when those bells had rung the whole day. What a day we had all had, our children right along side us, serving all those cups of tea to our friends with not a single complaint.  We were living here in Pakistan trying to represent Jesus, the One we celebrated on this special day. This had to be one of our best Christmases ever.

Pauline BrownMore about the author: Pauline Brown is the author of Jars of Clay: Ordinary Christians on an Extraordinary Mission in Southern Pakistan  and the co-author of Sindhi: An Introductory Course for English Speakers. Pauline spent over 30 years in the country of Pakistan, learning daily to communicate across the boundaries that daily life presented. She is an Amazing Woman who loves God and her family of five children and their spouses, 17 grandchildren (and some of their spouses) and six of the cutest great grandchildren the world has possibly ever seen.

13 thoughts on “I Heard the Cow Bells on Christmas Day – A Guest Post

    1. Aimee- whenever you come by it makes me feel like I’m still a part of coming to S.Hadley and seeing you all. So thank you – and thanks for your words – this story will never cease being my favorite.


  1. Aunt Polly, I just now had a chance to read the blog you wrote while sitting at my kitchen table. I enjoyed this story so much as I did the many wonderful stories I got to hear while we had the privilege of having you and Uncle Ralph stay in our home. I could listen to your stories all day long. I am so thankful that God has made me a part of this family. I love you so much.


  2. I too have been waiting to read one of your Mom’s blogs! I knew it would happen, and I decided to wait until our own home was anticipating a houseful of guests to remind myself of the spirit of hospitality when we think there is “no room in the inn.” Thank-you Polly!


  3. I want to start visiting lonely people over the holidays! Now that my kids are all grown I need to be reaching out to others instead of sitting home feeling lonely myself. In the US and most European countries, I expect, most people are having family gatherings on Christmas~so visiting friends on those days might not be very welcome~but there are plenty of folk with no families nearby.


  4. I didn’t live in Pakistan very long, but the two Christmases that I spent there were the best times I had in the country. I think it is easier to celebrate Christ’s birth in community, rather than just in a family setting. We western Christians can learn a lot from our Pakistani brothers and sisters.


  5. Well all I can say to that Marilyn Gardner is that with such a lady for a mother it isn’t then a wonder that you are such an amazing woman! Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year to all you and yours. Love you xxx


  6. What a joy to read your mother’s blog, Marilyn. She certainly has retained so many details from year’s ago. I am wondering if she kept a precise diary or journal. I enjoyed reading it so much. Please give your mother my greetings.


  7. Just had a wonderful sad/joyful visit with the author after the loss of her youngest sister Jean. The hope of a believer’s remembrance is as great as that which we celebrate remembering our Lord’s birth or resurrection. It brings together friends and family in a way few other things do.


    1. Yes, Bettie, so many memories! Some of those early Christmases with you and Hu. I especially remember the one when we went wild recreating desserts, you from the south and I from New England. Blessings on your Christmas celebration.


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