Have you ever wondered why do you celebrate Christmas the way you do? Would you like to change it? Find out about my journey to rediscover this major celebration.
First Christmas me and my husband celebrated after getting married and moving to the UK was nothing like I had thought it would be.
Both of us worked on Christmas Eve so there was little time to prepare traditional Polish supper. Also, having lived in London for only 6 months then, I did not know where to buy ingredients to cook Polish food. One of my colleagues bought me a carp (fish that we traditionally eat on Christmas Eve in Poland), and brought it to work so I was going home on the tube with raw fish. Yes, I was 🙂
We lived in a shared accommodation so there was not enough space to prepare a feast that takes a few hours (or days) to cook. I did whatever I could, and we invited our house mates to share the meal with us. We exchanged gifts from underneath an artificial Christmas tree… because I had never thought I wouldn’t be able to buy a tree on Christmas Eve which is what we did with my family in Poland.
I enjoyed that first unusual Christmas Eve to some extent. It was nice to share my tradition with others and do something of our own, after years of spending Christmas in similar way. But it was also not what I was used to.
When we exchanged Christmas greetings with my family over the phone, I cried. I cried because I missed them and because I missed the familiar traditions not because I missed the actual celebration of Jesus’ birth.
Little did I know that that experience was the beginning of my personal journey to re-discover Christmas.
Christmas Day that year wasn’t neither what I was used to. We couldn’t go to our usual church because there is no public transport in London on that day. Because of that we went for a service to a friendly Christian bookshop/fellowship a walking distance from home. Afterwards, we went to our house mate’s mum for Ethiopian dinner. On Boxing Day, we were both back at work.
Since then, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in different ways. Some as a couple, one with a small baby, some with friends sharing different traditions. In 2018, we helped at a community lunch in London. Most recently we celebrated as family of four.
I liked some of those celebrations more than others but none of them never really satisfied me, maybe apart from one.
Throughout the years, I have struggled with understanding the celebration and making sense of the things that happen in December. Since we’ve had children it got even more complicated because I also need to think how we celebrate as a family. This lack of satisfaction however has led me closer to the heart of Christmas – understanding what it is all about and how I want to mark the day and the whole season every year.
The whole journey has not been made easy by the fact that my husband doesn’t quite understand my struggle. He comes from a country where Christmas does not look at all like what we know in western Europe. There are no trees, no gifts, no advent, no season etc. There’s a celebration meal and time with family and friends. One day and everything is over.
When I started looking into this whole thing, I realised that I had never really investigated the meaning of Christmas and what it meant to me but tried to make sense of what the world has made of it. As the world has moved far away from celebrating the original meaning of Christmas, it is no surprise that I was dissatisfied trying to marry them both.
For years, I followed well-known traditions that I didn’t question and I was comfortable with. I liked them and I still do some of them but it never occurred to me that what I was celebrating was family, togetherness, keeping warm, end of year and the spirit of kindness but not the actual birth of Jesus. All these things are there because of His birth but celebrated separately become just a good human tradition.
Unplugging from the traditions made me ask questions. Answers did not appear easily and immediately. Also, once they started coming, accepting them has not been an easy process. The whole process of re-discovery has not been easy. I would even say it’s been painful at times, but I can now see it was worth it. I am thankful that it allowed me to think what Christmas means to me.
I feel I now know what advent means to me. I can see Jesus in the celebration. I know what to do and how (pretty much). How do I approach man-made traditions and what I want to embrace for my family and what I don’t.
My husband got used to Christmas celebration and we have found our own way of celebrating. And I’m actually getting excited about Christmas and sharing the celebration with others.
Having gone through this process myself I really encourage you to look deeper into Christmas and other celebrations too. It will help you to get to the ‘why’ of each season and personalise the way you celebrate it.
And if you want to hear more about what I discovered along the way, come back next week. I’ll be sharing my reflections on the meaning of Christmas and what does that one day change in our lives today.