Holidays in the land of Narnia

Another November is upon us, the weather is getting colder, windier, and altogether unpleasant. Amid the busy-ness of life in general, we are about to enter the American holiday season — an undeniably important time of year, regardless of our location outside of our American homeland.

“Always winter, never Christmas”

Christmas and Thanksgiving are two of those elements of American culture that we Americans take for granted — everyone celebrates them, everyone thinks they’re important. We take them for granted, until we suddenly find ourselves in an environment where¬†no one¬†celebrates them.

The majority of people in Bosnia and Herzegovina come from a Muslim background, and therefore obviously don’t observe Christian holidays. On top of that, a significant minority are Orthodox Christian, and celebrate Christmas on January 7. That leaves you, if you’re an American, left with the Catholics — who, while they do still observe December 25 as the birthday of our Lord, have holiday traditions that would seem completely foreign to the average American.

This can leave an unsuspecting expatriate in an unexpected place as the weather begins to turn cold. There was a point when our family realized that, if we were to survive the holiday season with the familiar trappings of togetherness and warmth that we all craved, we were going to have to do some very intentional things.

Be resourceful, but content

I can remember one year baking a turkey with an incredibly elaborate recipe, one that required making a spreading homemade spiced butter underneath the turkey’s skin, and visiting every shop in the city in search of sage. Other years, I can remember driving an hour or more from my house to find a place where my family could cut down a live Christmas tree to bring back to our house. In more recent years, I’ve looked back on those experiences and thought, “Why?”

 

Boil things down

The problem with those experiences was that they required very high investment of time and effort, with seemingly little to offer in return. After reflecting on why I felt that way, I was able to pinpoint just what it was that I wanted out of the holidays: a warm house, time with my family, and good memories.

All the decorations and trappings of “Christmas” didn’t really help us capture the things that I was after, and in the end they obscured what, to me, has been the thing that has made Thanksgiving and Christmas good, when it has been good. The warm house is a place of refuge and rest; time with my family is certainly fleeting during the rest of the year; good memories give us the fuel we need to jump in to the New Year.

Recognize your limits

The turkey I mentioned above also highlighted another thing — while I¬†love¬†good food, there is a limit to how good food can be. It might be a truly great turkey recipe, but if I need to give up my family time in order to make it, then it’s not worth the investment. I can make a perfectly good turkey with a much smaller investment of time.

There are many other things — decorating the house, buying gifts, hosting parties — that this lesson applies to as well. There are so many¬†“good”¬†things I can do in an effort to¬†make¬†the holidays special, but many times they can prevent the holidays from¬†being¬†special on their own.

 

These are just some things I’ve learned over years of spending Christmases and Thanksgivings outside America. Things are not always as we thought they would be, but we can experience success if we are patient and hopeful. I hope that your holiday season is a time of refreshment and rejuvenation for you, as we draw closer to the close of another year.

Giving makes the season brighter

This season we’ve chosen to ask our students to bring clothes and help us collect something to give away to poor families in our community. Through our church we have obtained a list of people who are in need in the community, and we will be using the things we collect to help make the season a little brighter for a few families here. Praise God that we have enough to give away, and praise him that our students are generous — they have brought a lot!

At a time when there is so much tragedy in the world, I have been gripped by the importance of giving. I think the most important thing to acknowledge is not how much we can do for others by our giving, but how much God can change our spirit through the decision to behave generously. If we allow him to take control over our possessions (I know, he already has control, but follow me here), then those possessions no longer have control over us, and we are freer to serve him with the things he has entrusted to us.

And I think there is another principle¬†at work here as well. If we are able to loosen our grip on our wealth and possessions, it allows us to see more clearly just how much it must have cost our Lord Jesus 2,000 years ago, when he gave up everything to enter into human history and redeem mankind through his life, death, and resurrection. From his great high place he descended to be born among animals, work as a common carpenter, die a criminal’s death, and be buried in a borrowed tomb. He is truly the greatest giver of all, and in giving we get to identify with him just a little bit, this Christmas. It kind of makes you want to give stuff away all the time, I think.

This year I’m looking for ways to give to help those in Syria who have suffered so much.

I don’t yet know to which charity I will end up donating, but here is some information I’ve found so far:

  • The British Red Cross. They are already supporting 1,000 families forced to flee their homes. This includes providing essential food, shelter, water and medical care.Teams are providing medical care and ambulances to transport emergency cases to specialised facilities.
    http://redcross.org.uk/
  • The Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets due to their distinctive hard hats, is a volunteer civil defence non-governmental organisation which works to rescue people from the rubble of destroyed buildings.¬†Donations to their ‚Äúhero fund‚ÄĚ are used to pay for medical care for injured White Helmets, to help them get back on their feet, as well as supporting families of volunteers killed in action.¬†https://www.whitehelmets.org
  • Doctors without borders. Very few doctors remain in Aleppo and, despite enjoying a protected status under international law, many hospitals and other medical facilities have been destroyed.¬†MSF supports eight hospitals in the city of Aleppo. It runs six medical facilities across northern Syria and supports more than 150 health centres and hospitals across the country, many of them in besieged areas.¬†MSF is no longer able to get into the city but continues to try to help the facilities it supports.¬†http://www.msf.org/donate
  • I would also recommend using a website like charity navigator, a site that you can use to find charities that are helping with different causes. Just go to http://www.charitynavigator.org and search for Syria.

Have you found any ways to give and help the cause of civilians in Syria? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on Facebook.

A Christmas of Simplicity 

From a reading on Spiritual discipline:

Simplicity ‚Äď Matthew 6:33 ‚Äď 34. Pursue a life free from striving after material things. Do not worry yourself trying to get the latest and best of every new item that comes on the market. Determine not to be enslaved to material possessions and excessive busyness that is so tempting in today‚Äôs culture.”

Continue reading