This Christmas will be my fifth away from family. The good news is, that it does get easier. My expectations have decreased. I’m thankful for a gift-wrapped, patterned tea-towel, and I’ve become the first enthusiastic volunteer to do the dishes – demonstrating my slightly desperate gratitude for whichever family has invited the overseas ‘orphan’ into their home.
That first Christmas invite when I moved overseas came early in April. I felt so relieved to know that I had plans for the sacred day; that I was to be included. I don’t know if I was producing vibes of Christmas-orphan panic as early as Easter, but let’s just say that the friend who invited me wasn’t usually the planning type. While I haven’t since fixed Christmas plans quite so many months ahead, that security of knowing I’ll be included and not alone is one of relief each year. Perhaps there’s a reason so many people talk about an ‘orphan’s Christmas’.
We can be absolutely content living away from our family – it may be the other side of the world, or the other side of the country – but on this one day, 25 December, a feeling of being orphaned can flare up in us. We don’t feel we belong in our new setting. We don’t expect the shower of gifts that others receive. We learn a new Christmas day ritual and politely do what our hosts require of us. There is usually still loads of fun involved, but it’s not the same as being around people who have known you your whole life. It’s on this day that we can feel displaced, even a burden.
In the past, it hasn’t felt like it was my responsibility to invite a friend or acquaintance for Christmas. The lead-up to Christmas was too hectic, and the Christmas period too sacred to have anyone else involved other than family. One year, I even withheld a boyfriend from overseas a Christmas invite – he was welcome to come stay with my family any other time, just not at Christmas. What I now know is how much that time of being included means to people away from home.
So this Advent, I’m going to stop and think about who needs an invite; who needs to be included. It doesn’t always have to mean an invitation to Christmas lunch, or a sofa companion for re-runs of the Queen’s speech or the Bond movie on TV. It may mean car-pooling to the Christmas Eve service so that everyone’s included, giving an unexpected gift, or even just asking someone if they have plans over the Christmas season. Knowing what I know now, I’m definitely avoiding the pity party – no one likes to feel they are a charity case – but I want to just show some consideration for the people around me this year.
Christmas is a time to recognise the reincarnation of our Father; therefore, the themes of Christmas and the lead-up to it of hope, joy, peace, love and thankfulness embody who we are as His sons and daughters. This is a time where home, family, community and being included and loved totally embody the kingdom of heaven on earth; the kingdom that was brought to earth by a birth on that day at Christmas.
It’s not about the exact historical date, it’s what it represents; it’s what the birth brought. It isn’t just about salvation, but about family, relationship, community and the embrace of the Father in that He sent His son to earth.
God didn’t create an orphanage at Christmas – or orphans for the rest of the year. He created us to be in family with Him and to be included. So who will you invite to be part of your community this Advent?