‘Merry Christmas’ is a beautiful expression of joy! I love love Christmas time but it is not like that for everyone. Christmas can be extremely difficult for some of you. It may be because it is a time of conflict in your family or marriage, the loss of a loved one or a job, a time of loneliness or the feeling of lack…. This time of year can stir emotions like not other as well as memories both good and bad. One can’t help but remember some of the great and not so great Christmas’s over the year? You might enjoy some insight into mine:
Christmas in Bendigo is going to be a new experience for me and for our family. We have spent the last 11 Christmas’/ in Melbourne and this has produced mixed feelings for me. I hate that so many friends go away for extended amounts of time and leave us behind. Christmas can be unpredictably cold or hot, so it is hard to plan. I’m remembering the Christmas my parents joined us from Queensland and it was 6 degrees outside! I also remember the gorgeous picnic we planned to have at the beach one year and the realisation (on arrival) that Christmas lunch would be eaten in the car because tgecwibd chill factor meant that it felt like -20 outside.
We don’t have to worry about which family to visit and when, as none of our extended family is lives in our state. This also means we do have to spend money on postage and be organised to get gifts in the mail early. We also time throughout Christmas day on skype or FaceTime with family or trying to track down family we have missed. With family overseas this means getting the times right and catching them when they can talk. Most of these issues are trivial …
I do genuinely love all that Chrismtas is for me and what it evokes in me. Of course there are the miriad of Christmas’s from my earlier years.
My memories as a child were of Christmas in Africa. Now that is not something everyone can write about:) We had no extended family nor did we hear from them (something to do with the slow or possibly no mail system in Africa).This was in also an era of no phones and no internet. (Christmas cards would often arrive several months after Christmas, with envelopes opened and resealed just in case the african official wanted to feed his family with any possible money inside). But there were many missionary families that were part of our Christmas and Uncle Eddie would dress up in his Santa suit…where he got it from I have never really thought about until now. Because there were no shops we didn’t have shopping experience that we do today..no advertising and catalogues to look through, no orevchristnas rush..bargain!. We kids did our Christmas shopping off a table in the library at school with the little bit of money sent secretly from home at the beginning of term. (Think mothers day school stall only worse). By the time I got to choose something there wasn’t much left on the table. My mum couldn’t buy us presents from a shop or the internet. The school holidays started with arrival home from a long dusty trip in a truck to a home full of the smells and sound of Christmas. Mum would have spent days deocrating and putting up signs all over the house welcoming us home. In year 4, my mum spent a whole term making me a hand made rag doll. My mum was not a sewer so that meant a lot! I recall the missionary mums trying to teach our African house boy how to bake christmas goodies. They would spend days in a hot african kitchen trying to recreate the smells and tastes of a snowy white christmas…. The christmas pudding always included money and was topped with a African Flame Lilly.
My first Christmas back in Australia, we arrived in December 1981 and I felt like a refugee…we owned nothing but the old dirty clothes in our family suitcase and littoecekse. We arrived just in time for Christmas and were living with my grandparents. My grandma was very ill and passed away in the January. That was a difficult Christmas but also full of great memories. I was given a puppy and got to go to the pound and pick her out myself. That Chrsitmas I was introduced to the new way of doing Christmas…with extended family and a massive reunion of my extended family put on by my patriarchal Grandpa. I have since learnt that there were many challenges, conflicts and issues but we kids were oblivious to because when we came together those things were not made a part of our Christmas gathering. I remember how generous my extended family were and how much love there was between the cousins and from Aunties and Uncles trying to make up for the years we had been away. My teens were a little more difficult as I became much more aware of how tight finances were and how generous my mum was dispite there never being much money. My late teens Christmases were spent doing long and tiring 9-12 hours shifts as a check out chick at Target attempting to pay for the things my parents could never buy me.
My twenties however were somewhat harder. My grandparents had passed away, immediate and extended family had grown up and scattered. I was a student so many of my friends would go home for Christmas and I would have nowhere to go as my parents were overseas. I also had little or no money so travelling was out of the question. I remember I used to make Christmas all about me and get really morbid and morose, wishful for what I didn’t have. I missed what we could never have back yet I yearned for something different. Summer always started with the stress of exams and everyone scattering home for the holidays and finished with me feeling extremely sorry for myself. Several of my friends got married over the summer time and it made me feel very single and even more lonely. I had little money to travel, buy others presents and my friends and family were never able to buy me what I really wanted because what I really wanted was not to feel so alone. I was about 23 when a gorgeous friend challenged me to make Christmas what I wanted it to be. It has never been the same. I sat down one Christmas and redefined my Christmas and my summer holidays. I actually got a 2 or three jobs over the summer so I could save the money to be where and with who I wanted to be, to be able to buy presents for the one’s I loved and also to set me up for the new year. I began to make the summer Holidays very purpose driven. It was a time of internal reflection and external fun. I had to proactively seek out ways to make things different so that i could carve out my own memories and allow them to take a new direction.
This has become even more important now that I have a family.
Now that we are in ministry, we don’t get Christmas with extended family…so we ensure that our staff Christmas party makes up for it. It has been more than mang years since I have had christmas with my extended family. My kids may not have their extended family around but they would would never know that Christmas was anything but special. Christmas for them lasts from the end of school all the way through to the end of January because we have so many people in our home over the summer and they are sent packages from all over the world from family and freinds. It is one long party of love, fun and happiness…
Long before I became a mum I began to redefine my Christmas and summer. Over the years I have and will continue to create rituals and traditions that help bring joy and peace to the season and create memories. Just when they start taking them for granted I will add something fresh. During the Christmas sales I always buy 2 new really expensive baubles for my kids so that the following year they get to hang something fresh and new. I used to decorate the tree while the kids were sleeping ..now we do it as a family then when they are sleeping I turn the lights on and fix what is out of place (secret control freak). As a family we look through the compassion catalogue and let the kids help us choose a christmas present to buy for a needy family. The kids don’t hear much about Santa in our house…but they hear the Christmas story over nad over again. They help pack the Chrismtas hamper for a family in need, they chose the gifts for Operation Christmas Child. They use their savings to buy a gift for their teacher and show appredciation for their love and care. My kids know that their Heavenly Father is different to Santa and they would choose their heavenly Father every time…He never bases his generosity on whether they are bad or good but rather on the goodness of His son and the gifts that flow from him are priceless. He cares about tehir character and is not there just once a year but all the time….I listen to Brooke sing carols over and over again and am grateful for what is being instilled in her life in this season. The kids have a perception that Christmas is about presents because they have a Dad who thinks it is imporant to be ridicuously generous at this time of year. An earthly Dad who doesn’t try to buy their love but rather show them the power of generosity.
One of my favourite rituals is one I created years ago. Between Boxing day and New Year, while Steve watches the Cricket and takes the kids for bike rides and icecream, I always find some time alone with God with my journal and my Bible and an open heart and scribe my thoughts and desire for the year ahead. I evaluate the year just gone and pray for insight on where my heart needs to focus . I don’t want to find myself in February with a whole 2 months of slip thtough my fingers, having not listened to the whispers of heaven about what is up ahead. I don’t want to put the year behind me to rest with things unresolved in my heart. I want to enter the New year with a grateful and expectant heart and this requires me to position myself there. If there are things that need forgiveness or repentance this is a perfect time to resolve those issues. It is a time of reflection on my values and priorities for the coming year and asking him for faith to do what in the natural I can not or do not want to do. It is me who sets the tone of my home in the year ahead and I want it to be one that represents heaven in it’s full measure not just some.
You too can redefine your Christmas. Our culture almost forces us to focus on the external but ultimately it is about letting your heart be captured by the story of redemption and allowing Jesus to redeem your heart again.
This christmas..be active in redefining and fine tuning your definition of this season.
This year you will leave your inprint on this year. History will have recorded all that your life has meant for this year. What is the imprint you will leave as a legacy for future generations. In the context of complex family relationships you get to be a beacon of light, hope , peace and comfort. It will cost you because it will require your time, humility, faith and active obedience…MERRY christmas takes on new meaning because it is you that helps define MERRY for those around you and for what is within you.