I didn’t predict that being away during the holidays would be so hard. I always said that Thanksgiving was never about the turkey or pumpkin pie and Christmas was never about the presents or fuss that we put into it. Turns out, I was right. It isn’t about the presents or feasts. By being disconnected from everything, I have been able to realize what is most important, what I miss most and how maybe the differences in celebration here in England have affected my heart.
No doubt, I miss my family and friends. I miss the time we spend together at the holidays; most of the time it was in preparation for guests or going overboard with decoration and spending frivolously on gifts. But the best part is that we did it together as a family. Within all the chaos, we had each other. Here, I am surrounded by colorful people that are truly blessing my life but We seem to lack the same kind of togetherness I long for during Christmas.
Lesson 1: Slow down and make time for each other. Time with friends and family is the most valuable gift to give.
Everything in my community seems to be simpler. There are very few elaborately decorated houses and the fuss of making it “look” like Christmas is not really a thing. One string of lights here, some tinsel there, an advent wreath, a Christmas tree and displayed Christmas cards is enough to recognize the season and not rely on mass amount of stuff that has pulled us away from the reason for the season.
Lesson 2: Simple is almost always better. No need to re-decorate the house and clutter an already magnificent holiday. It isn’t about the number of strings of lights or presents under the tree. Less is often more.
Early in December the women’s bible group I participate in held a wreath making day. It was a fantastic event, brought a bunch of women together from the village to kick off the season with some crafting and fun consuming biscuits, mince pies and mulled wine. Everyone brought loads of greenery from their gardens (everyone has beautiful gardens) and we made advent wreaths for our tables. To say I was horrible at it may be slight understatement but with bits of, evergreen, sage, holly, roses, pine cones and the generous (and much needed) helping hands of some awesome women, my wreath didn’t turn out half bad.
Lesson 3: Make things. Use your hands and what ever creative spirit you can muster to create. I am so proud of my awkward little wreath. Use your gifts and talents to celebrate creation.
The Dowson family is made up of some really great cooks. (My tummy is very thankful.) But with calendars disjointed and the busyness of life making itself known often, the only “real”time we have to together is during meals. I especially enjoy our Sunday evenings. Recently Sunday evening mean we light our advent candle wreath, read a section of scripture, pray and then are together for a meal. We make a good effort to all be together for dinners and we take turns cooking and doing dishes. I often realize in these moments how greatly I am blessed by this family. Meals together begin with thoughtful prayer, contain witty banter and discussion and end with a very happy tummy.
Lesson 4: Cook. Connect. Clean. Take turns serving each other in simple ways. Be present with each other and share the food, your day, your thoughts. (See lesson 1)
I have gone to so many Christmas carol services and Candlelit Advent services. All in various churches, different denominations but all so wonderful. I went to a quiet, candlelit mass at Coventry Cathedral. I attended a carol service in a theatre with the most soul filled choir. I worshiped at a small country church and been messy and covered in glitter for a Messy Church/ Christingle service in Claverdon. My point here is no matter where I have worshiped with my Christian brothers and sisters, i am reaffirmed of the reason for the season. God is present in every place, helping me get excited and preparing my heart for his son’s arrival. Each service I have attended made the nativity star that much brighter in my heart. Jesus is coming and that is the reason to celebrate.
Lesson 5: Attend church. Make sure that during the chaos, that is often this season, you guard you heart to stay focused on love, hope, joy and Jesus… Keep yourself spiritually fed so you are capable to celebrate with the utmost exuberance.
During this advent season, I have been leading many sessions on the meaning of advent and the reason for the season. I come home realizing I do a really poor job of practicing what I preach. I tell my youth be the lights in the darkness. You know what Jesus has done for you, live for him. See a need, fill it. Witness darkness, bring light to it. It is so easy to say rise above it, take the high road, be the good guy. But am I? Lately I have been basking in my “blue” Christmas with out family, friends, no snow and Christmas candies… uffda. My selfishness is showing. The world around us tells us via adverts that we need new products, great smelling perfume and romance to truly enjoy Christmas. I personally retreat into a burrito like state with my Netflix and overindulge in sappy Christmas movies. Normally, I get an alligator tear, or a good laugh out of the comical romance of Hallmark Christmas movies. But this year, even watching White Christmas (my favorite film) I was left feeling unsatisfied. I kept thinking that isn’t love, they just met!! In Love Actually, I got angry at how flippant and surface level love was referred. Then I came to this conclusion. The reason I can not handle love stories any longer is because for over the past month I have been talking to people about the greatest love story. The greatest love story to ever come into the lives of human beings is the love of selfless-ness. the indulgence of hope and exuberance of Joy when you know grace and peace are coming. Jesus coming into the world and his life is the greatest love story.
It is love that is patient, kind, generous, it has no expectations or motives. It is love that is absolute acceptance and freedom.
Lesson 6: The reason for the season. Love. God loved us so much he gave the world his son, to walk with us and teach us in his human-ness to be an example of God’s grace and light.
Merry Christmas everyone!