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.