When Christmas Is Not Quite the Same

by | Dec 16, 2015 | Trust


“How are they?” I ask H when he appears in the doorway.

Murielle and I are addressing piles of Christmas cards when his presence interrupts our concentration. I notice he is chewing; testing the warm nut ball cookies his mother is finishing in the kitchen. Traces of powdered sugar dust his chin.

“They’re good,” he reports after a final swallow, “different texture and a bit more buttery, but good.”

I make five different kinds of Christmas cookies (biscuits if you are British), in stages during the first weeks of December. Every recipe is eagerly anticipated until all are finished and arranged on a decorative plate. This year each batch is met with an echo to H’s assessment about the nut balls.

Good, but not quite the same.






English marshmallow has a different texture than Kraft Jet Puffed and green food coloring disappears when heated. Our Christmas wreaths made of cornflakes and melted marshmallow are supposed to be green, but instead, they look like worn out fall wreaths, dried and brown.

We can taste hints of chili powder in the chocolate covered peanut butter balls. Yeah, I have no idea what that’s about.

Last week, we traveled on the bus to Kensington High Street in search of sweet Hungarian paprika for a go-to family recipe; a favorite on Murielle’s bucket list of meals I cook while she visits. When we arrive at Whole Foods, we realize “The Google” isn’t accurate.

Instead of trusting labels, we gather in the spice aisle holding tins of Spanish paprika under our noses; squeezing the sides together while inhaling, attempting to identify a familiar aroma.

Nothing smells quite the same but we risk buying a tin anyway.


Once home, I pry the lid off the tin of paprika, lean in close and inhale a big whiff. “Yeah, it’s not quite the same,” I report to H.

“Let me smell it,” he requests, holding a hand out to inspect the contents.

In the exchange, like a runner in a relay race missing the baton, the tin lands on the floor instead of his hand.  The counter, handles on drawers, kitchen rug and an entire arm of my white sweater are dusted with orange powder.

It turns out our feather pillow incident was preparation for cleaning up the mess. In a frozen stance for a few seconds, we assess the situation without looking at each other or saying much. H pulls the vacuum out of the closet and I begin dousing my sweater with Oxy Clean.

Later, as I stir the pot of chicken paprika bubbling on the stove, sip the broth from a spoon before adding salt, H walks into the kitchen asks me how it tastes.

“I think it tastes good, but it’s not quite the same.”






Inserting family traditions into new culture is good but not quite the same. And perhaps this is how you would describe your Advent experience this year – good but not quite the same.

You approach the season with a heap of idealism, however, reality is good but not what you remember or envision.

Could it be that this is exactly what God intends during the days leading up to Christmas?

Because when reality doesn’t match expectations we remember that here — the place where we live and breathe and engage in community — we do not have a continuing city. This “insider world” is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the City about to come.  (Hebrews 13:14, MSG)

When our hope is set on cookies baked or recipes perfected, the cards we send or the family picture, party invites or the perfect dress, we set ourselves up for disappointment.

Our hope is in a Savior who was born to set us free from the same in order to embrace the different He envisions.


When things are a bit out of sorts, we remember that we are in this world, but not of it. We live as though we have nothing and yet, possess everything.

Not quite the same enables us to define what is good from what is God, knowing that what is good isn’t always God. But God is always good.


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  1. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Shelly, this post really hits home and is a profound one. I loved reading about your new cooking adventures. I had never really thought about all the different brands of foods you would need to use. When we visit our English friend, we love her cooking, and I have never really thought about all the products that, if I we lived there, I wouldn’t be able to find. But as your posts always do, this one drives deeper. I was lamenting to our piano tuner just yesterday….and I used these *very* words–so truly this is timely–that “Christmas is just not the same.” I was referring to Christmas without my father and without my wonderful grandparents and great aunts and uncles who were so delightful, fun, and funny. I said that now we host for the younger generation. So the tables are still filled, but that it is not the same. When what makes Christmas different is the loss of those you adored, it really makes it difficult at times to experience. It makes me sad. But your reminder that we are just passing through reminds me that these beloved ones have gone on to be in God’s presence, and that one day what we all experience in heaven will not be the same either. It will not be the same as the pains and disappointments we experience on earth. And there will be no more lamentation.

    Thank you so much, and I hope that you all have a glorious Christmas. Loved the photo of H and Geri. I can really see the resemblance. And the M ornament is so cute. 🙂

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m so glad this post resonated Lynn. Thinking about you and sending you hugs across the pond. I got your Christmas epistle and look forward to reading it. xx

      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        It surely did resonate, Shelly. Thank you. And you are charitable to call it an epistle. It’s a small book, no? It’s really about writing our family history for Sheridan to enjoy later. She’s starting to read the ones about her childhood. Fun to write and never boring (hopefully) with Michael’s pithy addition. Can’t wait till your book is released into the universe. I know you are celebrating over there!
        Love you,

  2. DeanneMoore

    I was thinking along these lines this morning, not about Christmas, but how life can be good but with a smidgen of discontent. And because of the part of life that just isn’t quite right, if we can get past being offended, we can received the good with gratitude. And I think, we are also more able to hold the things of the world loosely remembering eternity stretches out before us, that the good here are shadows of the better there. Hey, and y’all do need to quit making such big messes over there!!! Oh, my!! I so enjoyed the gift of your sweet treats last year. Thanks for posting the great pics! Merry Christmas to the Millers! So thankful for the good and the God you are finding in your Christmas this year. xoxo

    • Shelly Miller

      I was thinking this week about what a sweet visit we had with you last year. Our trip to Phoenix and stopping over at your house is such a precious memory I will always treasure. Missing you and wishing you all your heart longs for this Christmas.

  3. Mary Bonner

    Once again, Shelly, you have written something that goes beyond scratching the surface. It goes deep into my soul. Advent is not the same and I suspect (know) that Christmas will be different this year too. And for there are many reasons involved. God is always good and different is not always bad. Thank you, Shelly.

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m easing into the different slowly and accepting the change as God’s best. I think in our season of life this can be God’s gift to us if we embrace it instead of fighting against it, yes? I’m glad this post resonated Mary, you are such a gift to me, thank you.

  4. pastordt

    You need to make a list of longed-for ingredients and get friends to send them in small parcels. The lesson is a good one, Shelly. But sometimes it’s really nice when things resonate down deep as ‘just right.’ Marshmallows would be fairly cheap to mail, right???

    • Shelly Miller

      You are such a dear friend Diana, thank you for being so thoughtful. I did have my daughter and MIL bring a few things for us in their suitcases. Sometimes I don’t realize I can’t get an ingredient until the moment I’m making a recipe but yes, I will utilize my friends who are willing. I found marshmallows at the American store today. At least I know I can find them there next time I make that recipe.

      • Jody Ohlsen Collins

        Shelly/Diana, I thought of the same thing….give us a ‘wish list’ in October and maybe next year we can mail you what you need.
        (but I can’t guarantee you won’t be spilling anything…THAT

        • Jody Ohlsen Collins

          made me smile….Sorry.)

  5. pastordt

    And by ‘friends,’ sweetie, I mean, me, too!

  6. Debbie Putman

    Christmas will never be the same because of the passing of my oldest daughter and the work schedule of my youngest daughter. This was an excellent reminder of the change I need to make to truly celebrate Christmas. Fix my eyes on Jesus and remember God is always good.

    • Shelly Miller

      Oh Debbie, I’m so sorry. Your comment is sobering and hopeful. Thank for being here. I’m praying for you now.

      • Debbie Putman

        Thank you. I’ve celebrated Advent and made Jesus the focus of Christmas for most of my adult life, but the people I love have always been a bigger part of the day than they are now. I always thought I gave God 100%, but I’m realizing that wasn’t true. Thank you again for you insight and wisdom. It brought peace and comfort today.

  7. Celeste

    I am looking at Advent with new eyes. I never grew up following any calendar and I wonder what took me so long to implement readings.
    I am definitely one of those “perfect” cookie/ everything gals. I have had a few talks with myself already which goes hand in hand with my meditating things with new eyes and heart
    And, as a chef…I know that feeling of not having ingredients.
    So, as Neil travels a fair bit that way, say the word… Let me know what I can send through him.

    • Shelly Miller

      You are such a sweet friend Celeste, thank you. I’m learning how to make things differently and sometimes the challenge is fulfilling. I’ll let you know if anything comes to mind. xx

  8. Nancy Ruegg

    Oh, yes, “not quite the same” can be embraced because God is in it. Thank you, Shelly, for reminding us of our other-world reality!

  9. Judy

    Oh yes – I am very familiar with ‘the not quite the same’ celebratory food. As an Australian who has lived in Canada for nineteen years, I still miss summer cherries on the Christmas table!

    But, I have also learned to love welcoming the Christ child as the Light of the World here in the northern hemisphere’s winter.

    Blessed Christmas, Shelley.

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