This year my head has been slowly and repeatedly compressed and decompressed. It feels as if my mental capacity has been shrunk and enlarged at different times and perhaps this process has finally made me face up to a few things. Or at least see them in a different light.
I’m not good with change. I find it overwhelming. But I haven’t always been very self-aware so maybe that’s why I didn’t notice that a couple of changes (like leaving the UK for Brazil in January to volunteer for five months, getting engaged during that time, continuing as a student on a emotionally draining course which felt like it ran 24/7 for the next three months and getting married in a registry office in Brazil the week afterwards, returning two weeks after that for our ‘real’ wedding and celebration in the UK, leaving for Brazil again a month later to move into our rented home in a favela and then becoming pregnant four months later) within the space of 13 months might require some processing.
Christmas fell one year into that 13 month period and, although I had definite intentions to think through traditions and celebrations and what Christmas might look like for our newly-formed family unit, it didn’t really happen. It didn’t happen the next year either when our daughter was two months old because she wouldn’t notice and lots was going on. It didn’t happen the next year either when we were unexpectedly in the UK and my husband’s flight arrived on Christmas Day as that was the cheapest available. Or the next year when we had just moved into my mother-in-law’s spare room and fitted ourselves around what was happening here.
So perhaps I’m thinking about it all again this year because there’s more room in my head. Our daughter has just turned three and is now asking all the questions. She wants to know about everything and the reasons for everything. We’ve always said to her that Father Christmas is a game, but as celebrations go Christmas comes up a lot in the cartoons she watches and has been reduced to Santa, reindeer, presents, elves and snow, so if we want her to know anything about the first Christmas and want it means, we’re going to have to tell her about it ourselves. Which is probably obvious to everybody else but somehow had mainly passed me by until now.
It occurred to me this week that although I’ve spent the majority of my reasoning life thinking that I’m not making a big deal about Christmas because I’m rejecting the materialistic monster that it’s become, if I’m not looking for the original meaning of Christmas and celebrating that instead then I’m just missing an opportunity to glorify God for His goodness and grace in the midst of our mess, and that’s a cause for sadness and not for joy. So this year, after being pulled up short by that realisation, I’m trying to be more intentional about celebrating Christ’s coming to the world He created and what that means for us as we look forward to Him coming back and putting the world to rights.
One of the reasons that I found it difficult to ever feel like Christmas was coming when I’ve been in hot places has been just that – they’re hot places. And Christmas has been associated with winter and cold for maybe 25 years of my life.
This year as I’ve been thinking more about decentring and trying to remove myself from the narrative, or at least trying to remove myself as the protagonist, I’m trying to be more critical about what I accept and what I communicate in terms of messages.
As far as I can see the Bible offers no indication of the season when Jesus was born, although presumably the census should anchor the year. Of course I understand that linking Jesus’ birth to a date which falls in midwinter in Europe is bound to result in strong associations with European weather patterns of snow and frost (Hello In the bleak midwinter) but I don’t want that to be what determines my understanding and communication of the story of the first Christmas.
My first Christmas away from family was spent in Peru at the age of 21. The culture shock I experienced was only heightened when I walked past gardens filled with plastic reindeer and vast quantities of fake snow while I sweated profusely in sweltering heat.
I don’t want to be involved in perpetuating irrelevant cultural traditions which came with European colonisers and are reinforced by the rolling influence of North American cultural norms.
As an outsider here the gap is glaring because of the temperature differences so it is easier for me to identify some of the layers of associated traditions that have nothing to do with the first Christmas, whereas within my own culture that is more difficult.
This year I’m trying to be more aware and selective in what I choose to pick up and pass on. Which is not to say that I am rejecting all traditions associated with Christmas.
I don’t want to throw the baby Jesus out with the bathwater purely because it is scummy with commercialisation and cultural colonialism. I want to look through all that and have my vision renewed and washed clean as I fix my eyes on Him.
I’ll be exploring in other posts some of what I’m learning about the season of Advent and then Christmas and some of the traditions that I’d like to start incorporating into our third culture family celebrations.
I’d love to hear your thoughts! Have you started seeing Christmas differently this year? What do you find helps draw your gaze to Christ in the midst of the Christmas season.