Wow, as a recently resurrected blogger I got a lot of invitations to read people’s blogs before Christmas that were deep thoughts ABOUT Christmas.
Seems there is a lot of COMPETITION out there these days, like: I got more twitter followers (or fllwrs) than you do, more google+ friends in my circle, more likes on my awesome blog. I liked my own post once and WordPress promptly responded with “you’re so vain, I guess you think this post is about you”. Hahaha I love it. Unfortunately, I also am a sucker for a good competition. I would never ever in my life go bungee jumping plainly because I love my body and do not want to tear ligaments and have lasting back pain. But if you would come along and just dare me the right way … I would do it blindfolded down a volcano. Probably. I am chuckling a lot because some people really thrive on competition and if you tell people a funny story, albeit it might not be totally true, they even go along with your game. Best ways for pastors to really get to know people, and to quickly spot strengths and weaknesses in team members or couples: Go play a board game like “the big Taboo (combination of pictionary, charades, balderdash and other favorites) and have a ball watching the emerging competitiveness make or break the bond!
So now I would love to ask all the amazing deep “keep the true meaning of Christmas” bloggers how their ACTUAL Christmas went. You know, the one where the turkey was too long in the oven, you forgot that aunt Jenna actually gave you that dreadful Rose Soap Basket that you are now recycling back to aunty Tilda who sits right next to aunt Jenna sipping Passion fruit and lemonade, and the kids are just not performing the way they should … when you are alone they recite Shakespeare and play Mozart on tiny violins but today they were just all “Huuuuaaa, I am a scary vampire”. And those that kept informing us that Christmas is a pagan holiday and that we offend God if we put up a Christmas tree, and anyway it was a holiday where people were sacrificed –I am curious if they sat out the date in front of their TVs having no fun at all???
If I read my bible right, God actually has a lot of fun with festivals and holidays. Getting together and feasting is part of His plan for His people. The evergreen pine tree was used by God himself as a symbol of fruitfulness (Hosea 14:8) and used to decorate houses in the icy winters in Europe, when nothing else of colour was growing outside. People cherished apples, because they would provide nutrition throughout winter, and used to hang them on those trees. My home in Germany is Thuringia, land of musicians and artisans. If you have heard those gruesome stories some christians tell you before Christmas about bloodthirsty pagan rituals, think again. The mountain sides of my home country have provided the world with Christmas trees and glass ornaments for no other reason as to celebrate Christ’s birth and bring some colour into the drab winter days. German Christmas Ornaments.
And the date: Yes of course, smartypants we are, we know Jesus was more likely born into the spring season and the early church used the celebration of His birth to override pagan Midwinter -Yule festivities. Which I think is awesome, how better to honour God as to make sure the whole world commemorates Christ’s humble arrival to this world on the date in (northern hemisphere) winter when the short days end and slowly the sunlight is coming back! What an awesome symbolic right there. With Christ’s birth, the light came to us.
The most dramatic thing for me in a German Christmas is really the fact that it falls on the shortest day of the year. As a family we always used to take a long hike in the mountains the day after, often I went by myself on ski. The change in the atmosphere after Christmas is dramatic, there is a new crispness and clarity in the air. On the first of January it always seems as if a layer of grey has been removed and the world emerged freshly polished underneath.
So I am the last person on earth to sympathize with the religious Christmas haters. For Christ’s sake, celebrate HIM! With all you got! Put up the ornaments and lights, bring out the chocolates and roasts and whatever you cherish! And music, let there be lots of music.
(Just please, spare me Michael Buble’ – by the way is he living in the North Pole with Santa? He always seems to appear from nowhere around Christmas)
There is of course Christmas before kids and after. Before kids, it’s all about love, the grown up kind. You do your duty stint at the extended family, have a lot of energy to conduct musicals and church plays, visit the poor, dish out food at the refugee camps and invite the lonely for dinner. Keeping that up with two young boys is not very realistic, unless of course you have a nanny which I don’t. Please, my house feels full enough! So this year, Christmas was centered around making our little angels happy.
And finally going to this awesome African church whose music I used to enjoy on those Sundays when my newborn was still too small to take out or hadn’t slept all night. Then I would sit on my balcony and listen to the amazing harmonies coming from down the street, where the Word of Faith Church is located. They don’t even have a webpage so I can not post a link. But I have been asking my husband for a while now if we can’t go there to worship one sunday. And last sunday we did. What a great experience. If you can quickly ignore the fact that you are the only white faces among some hundred Africans who all look at you like you dropped from mars, you will be fine. In fact, I wanted to sit modestly in the back since my boys are very busy and love to dance very expressively with the music. But at least 4 ushers came and urged us to sit right in front. Everyone was very friendly and so happy to see us. I am sure in our church visitors are not even greeted with that much warmth although we really try.
The music. What is it with African music that tugs those heartstrings violently? Before moving to South Africa I was involved in a music ministry that took me around the globe, spending Christmas in Nigeria performing in front of the president. Services would last for up to 9 hours, and there was lots of singing and dancing.
Everytime Andries and I go and minister at an African church, I have to hold back my tears. I am a very realistic, rational person, and get extremely embarrassed if I can’t control my tears. African harmonies do that to me, but you know you learn to smile and wave. When the choir broke into singing “Joy to the world” in Venda, I quickly wiped my eyes … What an awesome African Christmas. My children always make friends real quick, and it was a very happy morning. I definitely go back and talk some more to the pastor and ask them if I could borrow the musicians! On the other hand, I can’t help but want to chat to the computer lady … there are ways to prevent your menus showing up on the big screen you know. Always passionate to teach churches to use their media right.
Decided to put “learning to speak Venda” on my bucket list for 2013.
Most people were gone to see family, my husband had a few emergency counseling with those who chose to have marriage drama at Christmas eve, but then we finally had time for our quiet Bethlehem-style family Christmas. Telling our kids the christmas story with the help of a beautiful nativity scene barn and figurines was such fun. Sam, 12 months, constantly took the cow and went mooh, mooh, while I was telling the rest of the story. This year was the first time we ditched the German habit of opening gifts on the evening of the 24th. In this African heat kids are more behaved in the cool of the morning. My parents called, however, sitting cosily together with my siblings and their kids enjoying the German thing. Bridging worlds by telephone again. After years of experience you don’t even have to think about what to say on the phone anymore. In the beginning it always dumbfounded me, the differences in thinking so crystal clear in a few sentences asked on the phone.
Someone told me a while ago that relationships shouldn’t be hard work. Celebrations should’t be either, but let’s be real, they are. You want to eat, you have to cook and clean … But we chose this year not to have to impress anyone and went really along with what makes happy. Surprise surprise, my in laws were really happy with the food I made. I think this year, I learned not to stress so much to do things perfect but rather do them with a naughty giggle. So much easier. It is still a lot of hard work since we chose not to live for ourselves. But it helps a lot to laugh about yourself because hey, who is perfect.
So today, while you are boxing up your Christmases, I hoped that all of you made the most of it, had lots of laughs and shared some special moments. And please nobody use your bathroom scale! To me, Nigella and Catherine Zeta-Jones are so much sexier than some bony ladies looking like skulls on a stick. So please, add some happiness to your looks and be a total fruitcake. You know, the ones with raisins and marzipan and brandy and icing, juicy and just yummy and almost unperishable.
This year is almost done, and I am DONE worrying about the next. I am planning on peaking at 50, so I still got time to make those mistakes and be totally underestimated by people. In Germany we say “Feiert die Feste wie sie fallen” which means celebrate at every opportunity. Planing on doing just that. this was such a lovely, calm little Christmas, and we were able to gather our thoughts for the exciting journey to come.
Grateful for all the people in our lives. Always.
All in all: Holidays are there to celebrate and not to have religious discussions about them. No matter where you are.