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?

Empty room

A friend of ours is moving in with us in just under three weeks time and he’ll be lodging with us for about six months. In preparation of his arrival, hubby and I spent one rainy Saturday afternoon clearing out his room, which we had been using as a spare room/storage space/laundry drying room. Everything that we stored in that room was well hidden in the cupboard, in the chest of drawers and under the bed. You probably wouldn’t even notice how much was in the room until you moved a person in and they had their own stuff to fill those spaces.

After about six hours of sorting, rearranging and piling up items and boxes to be thrown out, given to charity or moved, the room was free of our belongings bar some empty storage boxes. Our entire hallway was full of things to throw away – we even had to carve a path through the piles to get from one room to another – and we had a suitcase worth of clothes, toys, CDs, jewellery and other miscellaneous bits and bobs to take to a charity shop.

Neither of us could believe just how much stuff had been in that room, when on the surface, it had already looked empty.

Some larger items like my husband’s guitar case, found new homes quite easily, while others required the moving of the fridge to create a new space to tuck away. Despite the fact that you would barely notice we had got rid of so much, knowing that there was so much less meant that to me, the flat looked tidier, less cluttered and more homely.

Possibly even more excitingly, we ordered some new furniture for the spare room and I’m so looking forward to seeing it when it’s all put together. Sadly the delivery of the furniture won’t be for another few weeks so I’ll have to wait a while to see the final fruits of our rainy Saturday afternoon.

 

 

Turkey

IMGP0070aWe spent a wonderful week at the end of May in the Turkish cities of Adana and Istanbul. A good friend is teaching English out there and she gave us a fantastic introduction to the country’s culture. We tried Shalgam and Bici Bici – two Turkish delicacies I would be happy not to try again! – and spent many hours in the sunshine with friends.

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We sat through a lightning storm, paddle-boarded on a lake, pedalled a pedalo on a river, visited multiple mosques and ate an incredible number of kebabs.

We explored palaces and cobbled streets, took a boat tour and inhaled Istanbul at night.

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For those visiting this intoxicating city, I would suggest a visit to the Dolmabahce Palace and dinner at Sarnic restaurant – an old Roman cistern on the walk up to Ayasofia and the Blue Mosque. If you would like to see Topkapi Palace, be sure to see it before Dolmabahce, or it may be a disappointment after the latter.

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Istanbul is a remarkable mix of middle east and europe, old and new. Its culture changes, dependent on east or west and the less touristy areas are by far the most interesting.

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The Blue Mosque is one certainly worth seeing at night. Istanbul is quite a city. One to discover for yourself and I’d strongly encourage you to!

Spring photography day

As a professional photographer, my husband is great at capturing what he sees, in a way that also captures its inherent beauty. He’s also a natural teacher and loves to show others how to get the best out of their cameras. With that in mind, every now and then, he organises a photography day for friends to get together, wander around a town or particular site and make art from what they see. It’s pretty laid-back and people take their time over photographing what is beautiful to them. Everyone usually ends up with a very unique set of images from one another because we all see the world differently.

Our spring photography day last weekend was less than kind with the weather. It appears the April showers skipped their traditional month and made an overdue appearance in May and boy did it rain! The upside was that they were just showers, heavy as they were, and in between, the sun shone beautifully.

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The incredible looking hot chocolate was ordered by a friend when we were sheltering from a particularly torrential downpour. I opted for a Bailey’s hot chocolate (yum!) but his was pretty awesome – popping candy on top of the cream, jelly babies and candy cane!

We finished the day with about 12 people over at ours watching Eurovision. Madness ensued, unsurprisingly with Eurovision, but it was a really great night with some of my favourite people and the whole day made me realise yet again that we have some very very lovely friends.

Brunch

Collage - brunchBrunch is the most wonderful way to enjoy food at the weekend. There is no need for an early start, nor is there an expectation of having to be hungry first thing in the morning, which I’m usually not. Brunch enforces a leisurely pace where time can be infinite and there are no deadlines or chores. All that is required is that you eat when you’re hungry and make the meal last as long as possible.

Brunch is at its best when shared with friends. The day stretches out ahead of you and you can take your time putting the world to rights. The food has to be good and hearty – after all, it is technically combining two main meals – but other than that, it can be nearer breakfast or nearer lunch. It is whatever you want it to be and therein lies its joy. It’s dictated by you, not by the time or routine or tradition.

Whether it’s smoked salmon and scrambled egg on toast, or granola, yoghurt and fresh strawberries, brunch is really the way all weekends should start.

Baby shower – Twinkle, Twinkle theme

One of my closest friends is expecting her first little one. She lives pretty far away so she and her husband took a road trip – a ‘Big Bump Tour’ if you will – to see friends and family before baby arrives. While she was here, we took the opportunity to throw her a baby shower and I had the joy of planning it.

As they’ve chosen not to find out the gender of their baby, we wanted to keep colours and the theme neutral. So, with help from friends and Pinterest (of course!) we decided on yellow and white with a ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’ theme. We joined up with the boys for the second half of the shower so that we could all celebrate their anticipated new addition together.

It was such a fun afternoon getting to spend time with this precious couple, soon-to-be a little family!

Invitation – designed by the creatively wonderful Leah Eli

Cake!

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Food

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Stationery – all designed by Leah Eli

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Decorations

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Games – a nursery rhyme quiz, memory game with baby clothes, plus a couple of other games without photos – Fifty Shades of Lullaby and getting a baby’s bathwater to within 2 degrees of the recommended 37 degrees in the time it takes to play ‘Feelin’ Hot Hot Hot!’

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Gifts – as well as the traditional gifts, each of the girls bought their favourite childhood book and wrote a little message for the Mama-to-be inside.

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