December – Enjoying the Season

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December is always dominated by Christmas and this year was the first in many years where my family have all woken up in the same house on Christmas day. It was nice. Sad because the reason we were together was because we didn’t need to split the family between Germany and England any more but it was nice. It was quiet.

As it should be, this month has been about celebrating and spending time with friends and family. From carol singing and parties to ice skating and eating lots of cheese, December has thankfully been fairly uneventful. It also means that I’ve had a bit of time to take stock and figure a few things out ahead of the New Year.

This Christmas time, I am thankful that Jesus came to this earth so that we could have hope: hope in our earthly lives as well as hope for an eternal life on a perfect, restored earth, with no more tears, death or suffering. What complete joy.

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November reflections / December hopes

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November was a month of sadness, of deep prayer and of reflection on life as we mourned the loss of our wonderful Oma. She is with her Saviour so we are assured that she is experiencing a peace we can only imagine, so through our grief we can learn how to take what she meant to us and continue to live out her legacy.

Above all, that’s what I want to remember this Christmas month. That I have an incredible heritage of faith and love and I want that to remain a strong part of who I am.

>Reflections<

Get on top of work.  I may not have had two plane journeys but I have had time to prepare for what’s next at work. My brain is starting to untangle and that leaves me close to being able to let out the breath I’ve been holding for six months, for which I’m very thankful.

Finish my book. Many long train journeys helped me complete this and I loved the escape. I’ve even downloaded some more books as I remember how much it relaxes me to read!

Bake. I baked once, so technically achieved this. Christmas requires some kitchen adventures though so more of this to come I hope.

>Hopes<

Look up. Christmas is all around us. I want to stop watching my feet and look up, both at the crisp weather, the sparkle and the joy around me, as well as the Saviour whose birth we remember. I want to read and reflect on his birth and take time to grasp why we have the hope that we have.

Anticipate 2016. Anticipation is underrated. There is excitement, possibility, adventure and fulfilment bundled up in this package of looking ahead. It’s not always realised, but I love to plan, to think about where we’re going and walk into the New Year with my husband and my hopes aligned.

That’s it. December is about being in the moment and anticipating the joy of a New Year. I will also be considering a different way of setting myself goals that really capture things I want to change or keep on track of, for my own well-being and the contentment of those I love.

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.

That’s Christmas to Me

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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?