Christmas conjures up different images for all of us; twinkly lights, Christmas cake, long “to do” lists, cards dropping through the letterbox, over excited children, family tensions, uplifting carols. My conversations over the past few weeks have again highlighted the pressure there often is to have a “perfect” Christmas. Children’s expectations are high, and parents, out of love, want to fulfil these. And yet it’s not going to be perfect; we are all imperfect human beings in very imperfect families, and I’ve so wanted to reassure my friends, but often don’t seem to have the words.
I’ve been asked numerous times “Are you ready?” and I want to say “I’ve not got Pinterest wrapped gifts, our house is not instagram perfect, our Christmas cards smudged and the girls fought over helping me with the cake. But, I’m so looking forward to spending time with people I love, our home looks lovely and Christmassy, despite Lego, crayons, paper etc on the floor, I’ve been able to stock up with some easy meals from Aldi so I won’t be spending all the time in the kitchen, we had fun making the cards and the cake, and we’ve got some good movies to watch and good books to read. We’ll have our normal share of sibling squabbles, we’re all tired so mum and dad may be more irritable than normal, but we’re just so thankful that we will be together.” A bit of a mouthful. So, my getting ready focuses more around what I can do to prepare and simplify in order to create some space and time to focus on what is important to us over Christmas.
In centuries past, Christmas celebrations lasted for twelve days; from December 25 to January 6. Advent was the fast followed by the feast of Christmas. Agricultural workers had all twelve days off working the land, and there was a run of Saint’s days which ensured celebrations continued. In days before electric lighting, candles were central to these long dark days of winter, and churches often competed as to who had the most. Greenery was brought in from outside and early carols emerged. The cooks didn’t have time off and the food was decadent in sharp contrast to the everyday diet. The spices and dried fruit in our pies and cakes have thier roots here.
In our times, although we often feast in the physical sense, I think we may find it harder to truly celebrate for any length of time. We are so aware of the suffering around us, both globally and amongst our own family and friends, that it feels more appropriate to live in Advent, with the tension of what Jesus has already done and what he is still to do. And yet Christmas is a time to celebrate. It doesn’t have to be big and glossy; we’ve celebrated clear skies after days of rain, warm fires, chocolates, reheated Christmas pudding with home made brandy butter, and movies we all enjoy. I’m acutely aware Christmas is a time of increased loneliness, grief or tension for many. But I wonder if it’s all the trappings of Christmas which partly make it so; the birth of a Saviour who came into our world to walk with us through the painful times is surely good news.
So, we celebrate, but probably in fairly low key ways. I felt deeply grateful to be amongst our new church family singing familiar carols, and then to be at our local Chritingle service amongst so many friends from our town. In the few weeks before Christmas we had various outings; to the zoo farm where the girls took part in a beautiful Nativity with other home ed kids, to a National Trust property where we enjoyed the exquisitely decorated Victorian mansion and I had a soul restoring coffee and chat with a friend, to Granny’s cathedral city and decorations at the Bishop’s Palace.
We made about six dozen mince pies and invited friend and neighbours round for what has become a bit of an annual event. When we first started this, the children were tucked up in bed and we sipped mulled wine in relative peace. Now, it was exciting to welcome two of those children back from their first term at uni! It is a precious gift to have been living in the same community for so long. We’ve also enjoyed the girls’ friends coming round for craft parties, and going out for our Christmas meal (paninis at mediaeval cafe….the building, not the food), and a concert with the boys where the choral music soared throughout the glorious church building.
And now, halfway through these twelve days of Christmas, we’re enjoying seeing family and going for walks, but otherwise rather hunkering down. Life is full, and we all need these few days to be still. I feel so thankful for my precious family and these days when we can all celebrate and rest together.