I don’t know about you but the days leading up to Christmas, while filled with joy, anticipation, and celebration, take me to another place mentally. All the things I normally ponder, all the ways I harness meaning in the mundane, they quickly vanish into obscurity as an endless to-do list garners my attention.
But these days between Christmas and New Year’s Day are different. They have a smaller claim on time, emotional intelligence, or relational capital; the days after the celebration is finished are void of expectation. We are tempted to check out but it is here where we need to pay close attention.
The whitespace on the calendar before turning the page on a New Year is where God asks us how we will walk into the future. How will you then live?
Recapturing the steps we have taken to get to the place where we now stand is the clue for greater clarity about where God is leading us. In my case, celebrating Christmas in another culture highlights the petty from the sacred, idols from the truth, and the power of God’s presence from what is counterfeit.
Today, I’m highlighting a few of the hilarious and sobering ways a London Christmas helped me to gain perspective.
(1) Christmas Day in London can be described with one word: Quiet. There is something disarming when a bustling city suddenly empties like a dress rehearsal to the second coming. Vast numbers of people leave the city to spend Christmas elsewhere, often with family in the country. Here are some great photos capturing London on Christmas Day that illustrate what I am attempting to communicate.
(2) Because so many people make holiday plans elsewhere, and London is virtually a ghost town, worship services held on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are poorly attended. What we normally experience as the largest services of the year in the US are the least attended in London. It is the same at Easter. It is the people, not the place, that make a church a church.
(3) Most of the Christmas Carols we sing in the US are sung with different melodies or words in the UK. Though titles are the same, most of the carols aren’t familiar. The power in worship is not relative to familiarity.
(4) Mulled wine and minced pies are a staple at every holiday gathering. It is the shared, simple things of life that cultivate community.
(5) Thanks to the minced pie season, our new guilty pleasure is Brandy cream smeared on, well, everything. Decadence brings joy and doesn’t have to be expensive.
(6) Christmas cookies don’t seem to be a thing in England because #4. Traditions dissolve when following the crowd becomes important.
(7) Boxing Day should be called Bedlam Day if you choose to shop the sales. Inserting your unique self into swells of humanity that live differently asks, “What do you really believe?” and “Are you brave enough to live that out?” Do this often.
(8) We’re experiencing the warmest December in the UK in over 100 years. Daffodils are already blooming. The aspects of life beyond reason and comprehension remind us that God is the Creator and He is ultimately in control of everything.
(9) Christmas cards, the kind with nostalgic illustrations capturing the heart of Christmas, are still in vogue in England. We received more cards this year than the last two years combined. None received were personal family photo cards or inserted with letters detailing achievements and accolades. Somehow, I find this refreshing.
(10) Google is the bomb. It will teach you how to duplicate Bisquick from scratch, infuse sausage with spices that rival Jimmy Dean, and convert cups to grams. Important information to know if you want to eat traditional food on Christmas morning. Google is your friend.
(11) Shirt boxes for holding presents under the tree aren’t plentiful or giveaways like they are in the US. This makes wrapping gifts a creative experience and also highlights the ways I’ve taken the generosity inherent in my American roots for granted.
(12) My daughter can make a shirt box with random cardboard like a boss.
(13) Teenagers will still get excited and beg to open gifts when they spy their names on tags under the tree. Last year, we didn’t have any presents under the tree for my kids to open. I will never again take ability to give for granted.
(14) You can’t return or exchange a gift on Boxing Day; you must wait until Takeback Tuesday. Quality customer service is a specific mindset, not a world-wide mantra or entitlement.
(15) Nothing is quite the same when living in a different culture but Christmas will be perfect because #16.
(16) Being with family is what really matters most when celebrating a life changing event like the birth of our Savior. It is easy to take for granted those people with whom you talk to on a daily basis without making eye contact. But these are the people God chose, for good or ill, to shape your one little life into the beautiful human you are becoming. Tell your people how much you love them and say it often. Nothing but His love will stay the same, because God is in the business of making everything gloriously different.
What have you learned this month that is informing the way you hope to live in 2016?
Linking with Emily Freeman for What I Learned.
love this post. Love following you in your new life. Love hearing about all the mysteries and wonders of England and also HOPE to visit there some day.
Thanks for being here Sharon, appreciate you!!
Love this list of things you learned recently and over the course of the year. Those street scenes of the empty streets of London are incredible and hopeful. It’s kind of rest for the city, a city Sabbath maybe? I am glad that Harrison got his sausage balls thanks to the Google. This morning I felt myself take in a deep breath thankful for all I learned from what is behind and anticipating all that lies before. God bless you in every way in coming year!
I was thinking the same thing (surprised?) about Sabbath in London. I really notice it on Sunday too — the quietness of the neighborhood. Of course, you have experienced that with me. Praying God’s blessing and direction for you in 2016. xx
What gorgeous scenery! Love the list of lessons. I agree, the time between Christmas and New Year’s is a wonderful time to reflect.
Thanks for being here Jerri! Happy New Year!
What beautiful reflections and photos! Happy New Year!
This month… we’re celebrating a second “Christmas Day” tomorrow, because a member of our family was down with the stomach flu during the week of Christmas. We finished our Advent readings after the 25th, half of our holiday dinner is thawing in the fridge, and there’s a toddler belting “Silent Night” in her crib at this very minute. Our observance is all pretzeled up this year, but I can’t remember a Christmas more saturated in joy and simple minute-by-minute thanks for what *is*, over fears of what might be or what is to come. I hope 2016 will hold more of the same.
Amy, I was just thinking about you yesterday and wondering how you are doing. Glad to get an update and hope your second Christmas celebration was joy-filled. Happy New Year!!
We had a grand time, and how wonderful it is to be remembered, kind friend! Blessings to you and your family in the new year. 🙂
As an artist who has been trying her hand at designing some of those old fashioned Christmas cards these last two years, and being so disappointed with the way people are tending away from traditional and going with those photo cards and accomplishment letters instead (at least here) — it is SO refreshing to me to hear that England still favors the nostalgic illustrations that capture the heart of Christmas! Maybe I should try to market mine there. 🙂 Loved your post and photos as always. Happy and Blessed New Year to you and your family, Shelly! May you find His blessings overtaking you!
Pam, it’s true. Our friend from England sent a lovely card. And I love yours. They are really lovely. I can’t imagine having the talent to design one. Keep doing it!
Happy New Year.
Thank you, Lynn. So sorry about your friend’s comments on your letter, but it sounds to me like maybe the Holy Spirit is moving on her, maybe in a bit of conviction. Bless you for your testimony and open heart!
Thanks, Pam. that may be true. I don’t know if God is actually drawing her or not, but it’s apparent that He bothers her. That could be the first step to breakthrough. How I pray so.
I bet your cards are lovely Pam. You do such beautiful work. Happy New Year!! May 2016 be a year of bountiful blessing in every area of life.
Shelly, I love all the beautiful life lessons that the Lord is teaching you as you make your nest abroad. He has been so faithful to you and your family. And you well know I could easily follow you to the land of my heart. There are differences to be sure between England and America, but I love many of them. But I must tell you how shocked I was to read in your post that the cathedrals were empty on Christmas Eve. I had no idea. Granted, not many people are in the them on Sundays, whether in the morning or at Evensong. But I have often said how I want to spend Christmas in England, in part because I want to go to church. I love the gorgeous music and liturgy of the Anglican Church, so I presumed on a “high” holiday at least, the churches would be packed. Even for nonbelievers, I can’t imagine giving up the music. I pray God will bring to you and H at St. Barnabas those who need to know the Saviour. I know you will be only too pleased to introduce Him!
And speaking of lovely cards, thank you so much for yours, along with the gracious letter. It touched me deeply. Bless you for taking the time. I used to send beautiful cards and would take a great deal of time and thought to select them. But after our newsletter morphed into a mini newspaper, it was too hard to fold it into a card. So we needed to dispense with that time-honored tradition. But I always include the Christmas message. And interestingly, a friend called and lambasted me for that. “What’s all this Jesus stuff, Lynni, that you keep including? I’ve really had enough of that to last a lifetime.” (Hers was the only complaint that I have ever received). I kindly told her that I would continue to tell about Him in our *Christmas* newsletter. And frankly, I *can’t* get enough of Him! I know you can’t either, Shelly. This is a lovely post, and I wish you a lovely New Year!
It’s not true that all churches/cathedrals are empty on Sunday. I hear that often from Americans but we are seeing them filled back up. Aslan is on the move!! I thought of you often over the Advent season. We only had an organ playing the carols but it was lovely. The choir and band are away for Christmas with family. The candle service a few weeks prior is the big deal here in London. It was lovely.
I love that, Shelly….to think of Aslan on the move in England. And just think: You are part of it! So excited! And glad you were able to enjoy some of the music.
Shelly, your highlights are both humorous and holy (yes, I love alliteration) and the photos are just stunning. My random abstract way of thinking has never lent itself to lists of ‘what I learned’ because I don’t think sequentially–I’ll just toss out out one random thought from the last few days~I’ve read several posts by folks observing the 12 Days of Christmas–that in between time of Christmas leading up to Epiphany on Jan. 6th and I long to adhere to the practice of slowing Christmas down to a true season rather than one day.
Part of those 12 days includes Boxing Day, yes, but I learned the origin was from one of the saints who suggested the day after Christmas be observed as a day to gather up un wanted/un needed items and box them up for the poor. Positively revolutionary!
Your words bless my soul, friend. Happy New Year!
I love alliteration Jody! And I’m also a random thinker, so I get it. I enjoyed what you shared about Boxing Day, thanks for including it in your comment so others can glean too. Happy New Year!
“Recapturing the steps we have taken to get to the place where we now stand is the clue for greater clarity about where God is leading us.” I love how this captures the journey I’ve been on this fall of reflecting on how these past several years have shaped me. Answering His invitation to look for His kindness and shepherding care of me as I look back. Psalm 119:26: I recounted my ways and You answered me.
Hi Patty!! Love seeing you in the comments. I’m so glad this was an echo to what you’ve been living and thank you for sharing that Psalm, it couldn’t be more appropriate. Happy New Year!! Hope 2016 is filled with awe and wonder.