Christmas is… (the Sainsburys ad & all things festive)

I’m a little late to the party I suppose, but I’ve taken a little time out over this festive season and have come to two conclusions about what Christmas is for me.

1. Christmas is about sharing

The Sainsburys ad may have received a lot of criticism for supposedly commercialising war, but for me, it represented two things. Firstly, it made me super proud of my heritage, a perfect mix of German and English, beautifully summed up in the blending of the German and English voices singing Stille Nacht/Silent Night across the trenches.

Secondly it reminded me that Christmas really is for sharing. Without the people I love around me, Christmas simply isn’t Christmas at all. As my husband said at one of our Church Christmas services, it is a cliché, but Christmas really is about peace and love, or ‘Shalom’ as I prefer.

Christmas should be about wholeness and without those I love, I am not complete. This Christmas, I have been fortunate enough to see a lot of the people who I hold uppermost in my heart. I have received a few really thoughtful presents but it really hasn’t been about gifts this year, or even food. It has been about sharing whatever I am doing, with those I love. Be that a weekend in Germany with my Oma, Christmas Day with our elderly neighbour and my brother-in-law or post-Boxing Day with my parents and sister. That is Christmas for me.

2. Christmas is about waiting

It’s in the name really: Advent. This is the first year I have worked until Christmas Eve and it has meant that I haven’t felt able to relax fully until the final hour. My mum was telling us how, as a child, her parents didn’t put the tree up until Heiligabend (Christmas Eve) and when her father brought it home, the children weren’t allowed back into the lounge until it was up, decorated and keeping watch over their presents. It was worth waiting for and meant that Christmas had finally arrived.

I think next year I will phase my Christmas activities, leaving the tree until a little later rather than the very first weekend of December. I can enjoy other things – movies, festive coffee flavours, more time with friends and family – in anticipation that the best is yet to come.

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That’s Christmas to Me

PeaceOnEarth_chippedpaint

One of my favourite music groups, Pentatonix, have just released their new seasonal album ‘That’s Christmas to Me‘. The title track tells of all the things that make Christmas special for them from stockings to snow angels to kissing under the mistletoe.

For me, Christmas is all about family and children and I can’t wait until I have kids of my own to delight in Christmas with and to share the Good News of the Christmas story with. In the meantime, there are many things that spark that ‘Christmassy feeling’ in me. Last year, I didn’t get a chance to do all of these things, so sensible and future-thinking me sent an email to myself with reminders for Christmas 2014. These are a few of those suggestions with a few more that I’ve realised in recent weeks.

Shop on the High Street. Doing all of my Christmas shopping online may be hassle-free but it takes away two crucial parts of Christmas to me: 1) Being outside and 2) seeing joy on other people’s faces as they bask in the spirit of the season. I’m not saying I won’t do any of my gift shopping online, but I want to support my local stores and embrace Christmas, rather than try to hide from its bustle and in-so-doing, hide from the noise, energy and warmth that gives it such exhuberant joy.

Be with people. I am an introvert. Such an introvert. As much as I dearly love my friends, spending time with large groups of people exhausts me. Yet Christmas gives me the perfect excuse to see lots of people who don’t exhaust me. Those closest to me, those who have really lived life with me, energise me, light me up and make me feel full and content. Christmas is about the people I love and I mustn’t forget that sometimes, even for an introvert, there are certain people who make you feel loved and warm in return.

Light candles. The flickering of the flames and the scent of my favourite red berry candles is perfectly Christmas to me. They dance and make the room cosy and alive at the same time. Add in a log fire and I’m in Christmas heaven.

Christmas crafts. Every year I try to make something new – be that a tree ornament or a table decoration – anything that I can make using fir cones, dried oranges, star anise, cinnamon sticks and ribbon makes my heart sing. Baking Christmas biscuits also rates pretty highly – especially if they are full of Christmas spices. The senses are powerful triggers of emotion and Christmas smells, sights, sounds and tastes, can combine to create an indescribable experience of contentment and peace.

Read the Christmas story in German and listen to German Christmas carols. I once said to my Oma that my favourite Christmas was a German Christmas. It’s what I grew up with, it’s a huge part of my heritage and it’s something that soothes my soul. My Opa always read the Christmas story to us on Heiligen Abend and hearing that story in German somehow connects me to the truth and meaning of the story more so than the English translation. The familiar German lilt brings it to life for me and the same goes for Christmas carols. There’s something about Stille Nacht that resonates so much more with me than Silent Night.

The crucial part to all of this is that it is Christmas to me. I also watch Christmas movies, decorate, go to carol services and have an advent calendar but the things I’ve written about are the things that stir my heart and my spirit the most and remind me that it really is possible for Shalom to overcome the bad in this world, even if just for a season.

What is Christmas to you?

Changing character

ISFJ head and stress

It’s been a while since I wrote in my little corner of this seemingly infinite web space. It has been a pretty intense rollercoaster of a six months and too many of my thoughts were simply too raw, too unprocessed, to publish. In a relatively short space of time, I have learned so much about people and about relationships. I have learned an incredible amount about what it means to love and be loved. I have experienced situations I never thought I would encounter personally and I have come through them – not completely just yet but I’m certainly on my way to a lighter place.

In the process, I have discovered that the change in me is more apparent than I had thought. Many pay little attention to personality tests, the likes of Myers Briggs, but I find them useful in understanding myself and in understanding others, in order to bring out the best of both.

When I was first prompted to take the Myers Briggs test around five years ago, I was an ESTJ. I sat firmly in the category of someone who was logical, factually thinking, often quite opinionated, mostly unemotional and usually direct. If you wanted something from me, you would need to persuade me with sound and logical argument that it made good sense, before I would acquiesce.

After getting married, I changed fairly quickly to become an ISTJ. As my character developed, I placed an increasingly high value on time with myself, to process my thoughts, to understand the ‘why’ not just the ‘how’ and simply to be still. My husband is a very strong introvert and no doubt that has had a marked impact on who I am. Both of us are fairly confident, especially when it comes to public speaking, but to recharge, we are happiest in small groups, with each other, or even on our own. I still was very logical in my thinking but I had learned to be a better listener and not always feel the need to offer my opinion.

I took the Myers Briggs test again this past week and lo and behold, I am now an ISFJ. Slowly but surely, my character is leaning towards the simpler, more empathetic priorities in life. I am very quick to hold my tongue now, I consider the impact of my words before they are spoken, I listen more than I speak and the character trait in me that was so quick to step forward and lead has taken a step back, enabling those around me to take more ownership of their own paths, instead of being directed solely by mine.

I am still endlessly logical, organised and detail-focused and I can’t honestly see myself changing in either the ‘S’ or ‘J’ categories. I should also clarify that the point of these designations is not to pronounce a better or worse character, but rather to emphasise difference in character. The beauty of understanding personality is that we can learn to complement one another instead of antagonise, so that the weaknesses of one are overcome by the strengths of another.

We all change over time, but the circumstances of the past six months have brought about a change that is far more visible in the way I interact with people. I’m intrigued to see how that has an impact beyond the confines of relationships, especially as the new year approaches.