Love, Joy and Peace

 

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It’s Christmas. The season of twinkling lights, festive food, Carols by Candlelight and happy families. We’ve cleaned the house, decorated the tree, wrapped gifts for a never-ending list of family and friends, and slaved in the kitchen. Christmas is that magical time of the year when families get together to celebrate love, joy and peace.

And then I see headlines about

  • dreading Christmas
  • how to survive Christmas Day
  • the lonely who have no place to go

Dread, survival and loneliness doesn’t sound much like the Christmas spirit. It fills me with sadness and makes me wonder what we have done to Christmas that it is no longer a time to look forward to with excitement, longing and hope. How has love, joy and peace become fear, stress and isolation?

Family life is messy. The people who are closest to us and love us the most, are also the people who remember our every indiscretion, carry a multiple of grudges and know how to push our buttons. Well intentioned concern often comes out as criticism and judgement. Much as we love our families, sometimes we can also dread spending extended time with them.

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Love is supposed to be at the heart of the family, but we all know that love and family life are hard work. My Macquarie Dictionary defines love as ” a strong or passionate affection for another person.” Affection? I don’t know about you, but the word affection seems a bit weak to me. I would describe love as one of the most powerful forces in the world. It is also one of the most demanding. Ask any parent.

Love is hard work at the best of times. It is even harder when we are tired and stressed. I wonder sometimes, if we make Christmas harder for ourselves than we need to. In our pursuit of the perfect gift, the perfect tree, the perfect roast turkey, the perfect Christmas, are we burdening ourselves with unnecessary expectations that end up making us tired and stressed long before the family even arrives. Are we forgetting the whole reason we get together in the first place – to celebrate the joy, love and peace of Christmas.

For some of my friends and family, Christmas will be hard this year. It will be their first Christmas without a loved one. It will be sad, but together they will laugh and cry, love and grieve. For them, Christmas will be about being – being together, being happy, being sad, being present in their love and grief.

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For us, Christmas this year will just be the four of us. The rest of my family will not be getting together – at least, not physically. It is always a challenge for my family to be together in the same place, at the same time. We are scattered across Australia, from Perth in the West, Adelaide in the South, the Central Coast in the East, to Toowoomba in QLD. Even though we might exchange gifts via the postal service and celebrate our joy over the phone,  we will still be together in heart and mind, for not even space and time can separate us from the love of our family.

Every family is different. Some families will be grieving. Some families will be far apart. Some families have special needs. There is no one way to celebrate Christmas. Every family needs to be free to find the way that works for them, to find the way that restores love, joy and peace to the Christmas celebration. If you are a family with special needs, or even if you are not, Kirsty from Positive Special Needs Parenting has some excellent suggestions about how to make the Christmas celebration right for your family. You can read it here.

In the busyness and stress of the coming celebration, I hope you find some time to be present and to experience the love, joy and peace of the Christmas Season.

Wishing you a Joyful Christmas

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Christmas by Candlelight

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The stores are packed with tinsel, glitter encrusted decorations and a vast array of delicious sweet foodstuffs. Carols reverberate around the shopping centre, while hoards of shoppers hustle and bustle, laden with bags of gift-wrapped surprises. If you venture out at night, the city streets are illuminated with never-ending strings of blinking lights. And if you dare to switch on the television, you will be bombarded with all the things you need to have the perfect family celebration. It’s that time of year again.

Of course, we are filled with the seasonal spirit too.  We like to keep things simple. Bec has erected and elegantly decorated our tree with a collection of ornaments and strands of silver and gold garlands. We have a few crafted home decor items that announce the message of love, joy and peace and count down the days. Bec enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and whizzing up beautiful sweet things and Dan starts singing his favourite Christmas Carols. We especially enjoy planning the table decoration and candles are always a main feature.

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Candles play an important part in many family celebrations. It is hard to imagine a birthday party without a candle for every year atop the cake. Candles often feature as table decorations at wedding receptions and what would Valentines Day be without a romantic candle-lit dinner for two. And sometimes we use them to remember those we love who are no longer with us. As we watch the flame flicker, the warm glow quietens our spirit and creates a feeling of peace and love.

This year we have used candles to create an Advent wreath. It works just like an Advent calendar, counting down the weeks to Christmas Day. Starting four weeks before Christmas, we light one candle in the first week, two candles in the second week and so on, until finally there will be four red candles lit and one white candle for Christmas Day. Last year we experimented with some floating candles. I bought some special little glass floating tea light holders and set them in a large glass bowl filled with water. For this Christmas Bec has come up with a similar idea using glass jars, artificial flowers, and floating tea lights. It looks very effective and quite appropriate for an Australian Christmas.

 

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Our summer climate influences the way we celebrate Christmas here in Australia.  Families are increasingly more likely to gather in the outdoors, around a BBQ or even on the beach. And it is no doubt that our pleasant summer evenings played a significant part in creating what is now an established Christmas tradition – Carols by Candlelight. For as long as I can remember, people have gathered on Christmas Eve, in parks and gardens, on picnic rugs and folding chairs, to join in singing carols under a starry sky.  However I didn’t know, until I went digging, that Carols by Candlelight actually began in Australia. The first major event was held in Melbourne in 1938 and attracted a crowd of around 10,000 people. Today,  people all over Australia and even across the world, attend Carols by Candlelight events in many major cities and small country towns.

I wonder if our affection for candles is a response to our modern and technological world.  In our modern homes, with sharp clean lines and harsh electric light at the flick of a switch, sweetly scented candles help to soften the edges and create a warm and inviting atmosphere. Although candles are no longer a necessity for us, except in black-outs, their popularity has led to little cottage industries and whole shops completely devoted to candles and their associated accessories.

Over the years I have managed to collect quite an assortment of candles. Unlike the candles of ancient times, these are all shapes, sizes and colours with a variety of different aromas, but I don’t really use them as much as I could. Lighting the Advent Wreath each night for dinner has inspired us to make candles a regular part of our life. Dan and Bec are getting a bit past the time for birthday candles on their cakes, but we could create a special candle table decoration just for birthdays. There is no reason why we couldn’t light candles every night for dinner. In these days of short attentions and screen addictions, it could help to create a more family atmosphere for our evening meals.

I have already started to make candles part of my morning routine. I like to have some quiet time before Dan gets up. Once Dan is up and out of bed, nobody gets any quiet time.  I make myself a cup of coffee, light a candle and spend some time reading or meditating. Some times I might listen to some of my favourite music – something quiet, or I might do a bit of writing – whatever comes to mind. At present I am working my way through a number of half-burned candles, but I have a few special ones waiting, especially two that Bec gave me once for a birthday, labelled “Winter is Coming” and “Bag End.” Candles even come in literary aromas these days.

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Hmm, any guesses to the literary inspirations?

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We found these in a candle shop in the historic town of Hahndorf, South Australia.

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This one looks far too beautiful to even use!

I think it is extraordinary, that in our time of rapid technological progress, something so simple, so ancient, as an old-fashioned candle, can be a thing of beauty that adds meaning to our celebrations and joy to our every day life.

Will you be lighting a candle this Christmas?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recovering the Christmas Spirit

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Just one week ago I would have said, “Four days to Christmas and I’m already over it!”

It was hot. The roads and shopping malls were packed and the list of all the things I was supposed to do to ensure everybody had a Merry Christmas was growing by the minute. If this was Christmas, the most magical time of the year, then I was over it. Even though the Christmas Tree stood in the corner, beautifully decorated by Bec, and the Christmas Carols were reverberating through the house, I could not summon an ounce of excitement, or anything remotely like joy, peace or love.

It didn’t used to be this way

I remember the excitement and magic of Christmas when I was a child: counting down the days, wondering what surprise would be waiting for me under the Christmas Tree, watching John Martin’s Christmas Pageant wind its way through the city streets of Adelaide. I remember the taste of Grandma’s Christmas Pudding, the joy of playing with far-flung cousins, and the mystery of why the adults preferred to sleep the afternoon away.

What happened? How did Christmas cease to be magical? When did it become a focal point for stress and panic, and a symbol of greed, waste and over consumption?

It seems I am not alone

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I came across quite a few posts and articles advocating a simpler approach to celebrating Christmas. In our house we had already been wondering about some of the so-called Christmas traditions and questioning why we do the things we do and who says we should do them. I mean, do we even like turkey?

Sometimes it feels like we get so overwhelmed with the traditions of a celebration (not just Christmas, but any celebration) that the whole reason we are celebrating in the first place, is forgotten. Perhaps we need to take a simpler approach to celebrations. We could spend less, eat less, stress less and instead, celebrate the reason more.

As it turned out, I did recover my Christmas Spirit. And it wasn’t from spending more or doing more but by stepping back and enjoying the things that are right in front of me.

So here are my three tips for recovering the Spirit of Christmas.

 Let the kids do the cooking

One of the best things about having young adult children is that they can start to take over the domestic tasks of family celebrations. I actually don’t like cooking much at all. It seems like a waste of time slaving over a hot stove just to have it all wolfed down in five minutes. Lucky for me, Dan and Bec love cooking, well cooking the sweet things, that is. So, I do the mains, Bec does the desserts. It’s a good arrangement. Mind you, nobody waxes lyrical about a potato salad in the way they do over a fancy pavlova or layered trifle. You can see Bec’s contributions below.

And Dan is not to be left out either. Since the group activities at Yellow Bridge have finished for the year, he has been doing some cooking with his support time. Check out his Gingerbread Biscuits and White Christmas.

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Okay, so the White Christmas fell apart a little, but it tastes much better in big chunks than little pieces.

 Focus on one tradition that has meaning for you

Since we moved to Toowoomba, we have been living in two houses; one here, and one back out west. This means that some of our good stuff has been back at the other house. It’s been three years since I’ve had my Nativity set out and I didn’t realise how meaningful that tradition was, until I retrieved it this year. It was quite surprising how the ritual of unpacking each piece and placing it in the scene carved out a special quiet time for reflection.

There are many traditions we could probably do without, but you just need one to rediscover the joy and magic of Christmas.

 Celebrate time together

As almost empty nesters, daily life with Dan and Bec is slowly drawing to a close. Next year Bec leaves home to begin study in Brisbane. Within the next few years we hope Dan will make the transition into supported accommodation. This is probably our last Christmas with them both still living at home.

Family life with autism is always a bit different. Even though Dan is the eldest, he is the older-younger child. From a very young age, Bec has been the younger-older child. As a two-year old she was reminded to look after Dan at the playground, even though he was nearly two years older. It’s not easy for a child to grow up with a sibling who has a disability. There are just some things that peers can never understand unless they are walking the same journey.

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For the most part, Dan and Bec get along really well. While Bec often needs time on her own, she shows generosity and patience with Dan, prepared to sit down and play UNO, help him play the Wii or kick the soccer ball around.

 

Watching them play a game together reminded me of the need to celebrate whatever time we have together. We never know when it may come to an end.

 

And what was under the Christmas Tree?

 

I hope your Christmas was filled with the love of family, the joy of meaningful traditions and the peace of simplicity.