Awaiting a Different Christmas Experience {+ an Amazing Giveaway!}

(To celebrate Christmas here at Velvet Ashes, we’re having our very first giveaway at the end of this post!)

I can still smell the crisp winter air that surrounded me as we huddled into the old, rural church on Christmas Eve.  Dressed in my new Christmas best, surrounded by angelic notes gently falling like snow from the choir loft above, my heart leapt with anticipation as I thought of the next day’s celebration at my grandparents house when twenty five adults, seventeen kids, one hundred presents, a huge turkey and roasting pan full of stuffing, fifteen pies, and countless rounds of dominoes would combust into a hearty, all-day celebration.

As my seventh Christmas in China approaches, I again find myself far away from my family and traditional celebration.  Christmas in a foreign land can bring so many challenges: finding traditional food ingredients, good gifts for the kids, holiday decorations, not to mention the overwhelming feeling of homesickness that can suddenly sneak up during the busyness of it all.

Reflecting on my Christmases in China, it seems that I’ve embraced the idea that as long as everything I’m missing back home is properly substituted here, I’ll be okay.  Pumpkin pie, check!  Stocking stuffers, check!  A group to play games with Christmas afternoon, check!   Christmas Eve fellowship including candlelight and favorite Christmas carols, check!

It was all good, until last year when there was a shortage of appropriate substituted activities at the appropriate times. Christmas Eve wasn’t spent singing with a group over candlelight, Christmas afternoon was way too quiet, and the feeling of being surrounded by extended family all day just wasn’t there.   In past years, we had a much more intimate team setting which allowed a sense of family to develop among the eight adult team members, and Christmas day was spent with our “China family.”  Last year, we had just moved to a new city and changed jobs and the team was a lot bigger than we were used to.  We just didn’t quite know yet who are people were, and that really left an unfilled void over the holidays.

This year, as I think about Christmas, I’m not really that excited and even told my husband that if it weren’t for the new baby, I’d just rather go to the beach and get out of here for the holidays.  Yikes!  I think it’s time for an attitude check!

As I look back at last Christmas, it really wasn’t bad at all.  Just different.  So, as I plan for Christmas this year, I want to be okay with different.  I want to see it as a chance to really focus on Jesus as the true reason for the season.  If Jesus is truly more than enough for me, why do I sit and complain that I don’t have enough this or that for a good Christmas?  I’d like to be more like the humble shepherds who were invited by God and caught up in the glory of a newborn savior on the first Christmas.  No matter how many Christmas events or parties I do or don’t attend, I don’t want to miss the point. Celebration is a great thing, but I want to freely allow my Christmas celebration to be as God wills this year, even if it doesn’t meet my previously rigid expectations.

How are you doing this year with being okay?


Feature Photo Credit: Switzer-Land Studios via Flickr


Here’s a little Christmas cheer for us all – our very first Velvet Ashes Giveaway!

You have all been enjoying the amazing word art for The Grove, yes?  Well, Amy Davis of Amy Davis Art Design has been providing us with this talent of hers each week.  And now she’s extending her generosity even further by giving us THIS…


This stunning 8×10 canvas will be given to the winner and shipped to a U.S. address.

How do you win?

1.  Subscribe to Velvet Ashes:

All new subscribers will be entered in the drawing.  If you’re already subscribed, you can still enter the giveaway by…

2.  Using Rafflecopter below:

– Like and share Velvet Ashes on Facebook

– Follow and tweet @Velvet_Ashes on Twitter

– Leave a comment

You can rack up a multiple number of entries this way!  (YOUR ENTRIES WILL ONLY BE COUNTED IF YOU USE THE RAFFLECOPTER BELOW)

*If you’re reading this in email, click over to the site to enter the drawing. 

Winner will be announced at The Grove at the end of the week!

Merry 1st Christmas, Velvet Ashes!

a Rafflecopter giveaway



  1. Patricia Havener December 15, 2013

    I have enjoyed the postings. We are still adjusting to “coming back” to the states, but so happy to enjoy the season with family and friends.

    1. M'Lynn December 16, 2013

      You know, even though I miss Christmas in the States, I’m sure it would be quite an adjustment. I hope you are able to fully enjoy it even if some of it overwhelms you!

  2. Sarah December 15, 2013

    Thank you for sharing about your experiences adjusting to celebrating Christmas overseas. I am in my 9th year of living in Colombia, South America, and with three little girls, I am trying to establish Christmas traditions that don’t hinge on snow, being with extended family, going to a Christmas Eve service, etc. This is a bittersweet time of year, but we are trying to keep Christ central and our home full of Christmas wonder and joy as we ready to celebrate His birth.

    1. M'Lynn December 16, 2013

      Isn’t it strange how we can even require the weather to be “just so” to have a happy Christmas? I’m curious to know some of your new traditions!

  3. Jennifer Dorr December 15, 2013

    Thanks for sharing your post. This is my family’s first year serving in South Africa. Being around all the Christmas celebrations overwhelms me with homesickness sometimes. Celebrating Christmas in the middle of summer doesn’t seem right either. Trying to balance making Christmas good for the kids with being humble m’s is a struggle. Like you, I need to focus on Jesus-I appreciate the reminder. Blessings to you for a very Merry Christmas.

    1. M'Lynn December 16, 2013

      I agree that it’s a struggle to balance humility and the desire to create a magical season for the kids. It is so easy to go over the top and then realize they’ve missed the true meaning of Christmas, but on the other hand I want to make it a special time for them…a time full of wonder and happiness! I hope my kids’ memories of Christmas will be as special as the ones I have of my childhood. I hope your first Christmas on the field is a very blessed one!

  4. Shelly Page December 15, 2013

    I have been able to adjust to the “different” ways of celebrating. This year I will teach on Christmas day, and am still debating whether I will keep my usual Wednesday office hours in the afternoon. I think the way my family back in the US has shifted its way of celebrating contributes to this easy adjustment. With married siblings who have to juggle which family gets them on which day of the holiday season, we have often celebrated early so that the actual day is just my parents and me–gifts already opened, big meals already eaten, and church gatherings already attended. It’s quiet and we do very “normal” things. Having said all of this, I still like to have a Christmas tree and listen to holiday music and enjoy the gatherings that the community plans in the days leading up to Christmas. Hm? I guess I will cancel office hours and plan to “play” in the afternoon with my small community here–that’s something I would do if I were hanging out with all my relatives on a Christmas day.

    1. M'Lynn December 16, 2013

      I think I would really struggle if I had to teach on Christmas day. I’m glad you have such great perspective on it. For me it would be one of those days I would have to repeatedly remind myself we’re here to serve and we’re not entitled to anything (not even a day off on Christmas)!

  5. Colleen Mitchell December 15, 2013

    I am okay this year because my 15 year old has been in the States for 7 weeks and gets home tonight! That will make Christmas feel special. And we have decided to create our own tribe for Christmas rather than watching everyone else celebrate with family and feeling lonely. So we are bringing hot cocoa, dessert and Christmas movie to a local orphanage after Christmas Eve Mass and have wrapped thirty men’s shirts or sweaters from a second hand store and will head out to gift them to the homeless in the nearest city on Christmas night. The poor are our tribe and where we feel most at home, so it only makes sense to spend Christmas this way. Plus, it makes it really hard to be sad.

    1. M'Lynn December 16, 2013

      Colleen, I love your idea of handing out wrapped gifts to the homeless on Christmas night. Blessed to be a blessing!

    2. Morielle December 16, 2013

      Ooh, Colleen, what Christmas movie? I’m looking for good ones to show my students.

  6. Vanessa Pritchard December 15, 2013

    Love this! I remember my first Christmas in China, it was difficult to be so far from those I loved. Bringing traditions from home and making new ones with my new “China Family” made for one of the best Christmases i’ve ever had my second year.

    1. M'Lynn December 16, 2013

      One of my most memorable Christmases in China was the first one. Our team exchanged gifts, shared stuff we had received in packages from family and friends back home and played all day. You know, I probably was homesick that day, but looking back all I remember is the fun and the friends who shared in the fun!

  7. Ashley Felder December 15, 2013

    Wow, I felt the exact same way last year. The previous two years was wonderful spending Christmas day with teammates all day long. Last year, it hit me that the community we’re in now is huge and it’s hard to find a small group to celebrate with. This year, we’re tackling it! No more feeling lonely or left out on that day! But, I agree, I need to be ok with the times when it doesn’t work out my way and find the blessings, no matter how hard they are to see sometimes.

    1. M'Lynn December 16, 2013

      This reminds me of a quote from a sermon that you should “plan your pain,” meaning if something is or has been painful in the past, maybe some planning and thought will help it to be different in the future. It sounds like you’re ready for it this year! Hope you have a blessed Christmas!

  8. Jo December 16, 2013

    We’re already into the thick of celebrating with our Kazakh family, but I watched ‘how the grinch stole Christmas’ with my kids for the first time recently and we talked about how Christmas is nothing to do with baubles and food etc… it was a timely reality check for me too!

    1. M'Lynn December 16, 2013

      “It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!” And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” -How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

      Don’t we all need this reminder at times? I love it!

  9. Jo December 16, 2013

    By the way, sorry for not sharing on facebook – not sure I want my friendly immigration officer checking up what things I’m into! 😉

  10. Heather December 16, 2013

    The cool thing for me, being far from my home culture, is that I can make Christmas what I want it to be. I am not constrained by family traditions (but we always do it this way!) or by marketing and advertising that tempts money out of my pocket. I find I can focus on the Gift so freely given and look forward to the promise fulfilled at a later date. Of course, I am currently traveling cross country to join “family” so will get to celebrate in whatever manner they so chose. I am excited to be with them. I will still miss being with my family at key moments. Sigh…

    1. M'Lynn December 16, 2013

      Great perspective…that being far away is a chance to make Christmas our own instead of having to do it this way or that. This was a challenge for my husband and I even before we came to China because when you get married you have to decide how the two of you will do Christmas and that sometimes looks different than one or both of you think it would or should! We have finally hashed out that Santa brings gifts unwrapped (even though they were wrapped when I was a kid) and the official Christmas morning breakfast is sticky buns! (yes, even simple things like that can cause conflict when two family traditions collide!)

  11. Erica December 16, 2013

    In some ways celebrating Christmas in China has caused me to focus on what’s really important. There are still many distractions competing for my attention–loads of parties, gifts, etc.–but many of the gatherings are with those who really don’t know what Christmas is about. I mean, they don’t know Mary, Joseph, any of that. So I often get to see it through new eyes and He shows me something I haven’t seen before. That being said, I’m so thankful for a great community here to celebrate with (thanks for the invite, Ashley F.!) and for friends that feel like family.

    1. M'Lynn December 16, 2013

      I’m so glad you have friends that feel like family to celebrate with! What a blessing! Do you mind sharing something He’s shown you that you haven’t seen before Christmas in China?

      1. Erica December 16, 2013

        I think the biggest thing that’s emphasized to me over and over each year as I share the Christmas story with Chinese students and friends is the complete humility of it all. The questions they ask-“Why did He choose Mary to be the mother of Jesus?” “Why did they angels first announce the birth of Jesus to shepherds?” etc. drives that point home. But that’s the incarnation: the King of the world come to earth in the midst of the most humble circumstances of all. I think Chinese people can sometimes see the lowly, “countryside” aspect of it better than we can.

        1. Morielle December 16, 2013

          So true, Erica, thanks for sharing. 🙂

        2. Shelly Page December 16, 2013

          On this theme of interesting questions: One listener recently asked:”The baby was born in order to die? That was his destiny?” Then the listener reacted to that reality with “that’s not nice” to be born to die. But it opened up conversation, for sure!

  12. Jennifer December 16, 2013

    This year marks my 5th Christmas in China. I have enjoyed winter Christmas’s in contrast to the summer Christmas’s I have known most of my life. The traditional Christmas food fits much better into winter. White Christmas’s are also good, even if very cold. The biggest challenge for me has been aloneness at this time of year. Partly a simple byproduct of many of the people I knew best simply being part of other groups who did things on these days which I was simply not a part of. Just the way things were. I have usually found students or other people I know to share some of the day with me, and they have enjoyed it. There is something in me that would like to spend some time this time of year with someone for whom it is not completely new. Much as I enjoy that. This year I will share a relatively traditional Christmas lunch with 4 of my students and 4 of their friends. Not sure yet about the rest of the day. No options yet. We can have a holiday on the day as long as we move whatever classes we may have. That is safely done for me, so I am free.

  13. Jodi December 16, 2013

    thanks m’lynn for sharing your honest and well written thoughts!! you even got me to finally subscribe 😉 always a good reminder especially at this time of year. love you!!

  14. Laura December 16, 2013

    I thought I was doing okay until we only sang one Christmas carol in church yesterday. Then I suddenly wasn’t okay. And a carol service in the evening wasn’t much help since the tunes and words tend to be different here for some of the “familiar” carols. Listening to Christmas music online has helped, thankfully!

    1. Amy Young December 16, 2013

      Funny how emotions are, isn’t it?! How we can be fine one moment and up pops something (often innocent) that knocks us off kilter. On the flip side, sometimes as often as they come, they leave :).

      1. Laura December 17, 2013

        Amy, yes, those moments can leave as quickly as they come, which is something I remind myself of when those moments do come.

    2. Jennifer December 17, 2013

      Laura, I can relate to that too… I noticed on Sunday morning in the English service we did not sing one Christmas song. I did miss it. But I did make up for it by my online listening and watching. Sometimes it is the little things that make a lot of difference. And recognizing what you miss the most and finding ways to make up for it, or creating new traditions can make all the difference.

      1. Laura December 17, 2013

        Jennifer, I’m finding that creating new traditions to be a bit more difficult this year. I didn’t seem to have any trouble when I lived in another country, but for some reason it seems harder where I am now. Does listening to Christmas music online count as a tradition? 😉

        1. Jennifer December 17, 2013

          Laura, I think that listening to Christmas music online definitely counts as a potential new tradition… I see no reason why not. It means a lot to me this year… and if I do it again next year… then a new tradition has been created. This can apply to anything. I am enjoying hearing of different traditions that living in different places and with different people can create. An openness to new possibilities, to new traditions, as well as a holding onto and development of the old traditions in a new place is not always easy, but is all we need.

  15. Diane December 16, 2013

    This is our 5th Christmas in Eastern Europe. Being okay with being away from family/home at Christmas for me means making a new “family” from those we find ourselves in fellowship with at the time. We are planning on gathering with a group from our school-hosting this year-other expats and students, for food and fellowship on Christmas day.
    When my children were still young (they are all grown, now), we made a change in our Christmas celebration. We shunned the out-of-control holiday shopping/party/burnout frenzy and consumer-driven more-is-better “gimme” holiday and attempted to keep the focus more on the reason we have this Holy-day. Jesus, God’s own Son gifted us with the greatest present we could ever hope to have-His PRESENCE. I do decorate- mostly lights and candles as they remind me off the LIGHT of the world come down to us- and a tree. I crave stillness and peace in these dark winter days, but in wanting to reflect His gift to us, I am attempting to give the same gift to people this year- The gift of PRESENCE. I want others to know I value them, have time for them, and am here for them. As M’Lynn quoted from “the Grinch” (A family favorite!), we have discovered- “Christmas doesn’t come from a store- Christmas IS about something MORE”. I am inspired by the wonderful ideas others have shared in this post about ways to spread God’s love to others this season. May we all seek ways to give others the gift of God’s grace and peace to all.

  16. Jennifer December 17, 2013

    The main feature in my apartment representing Christmas to me this year is my tree, complete with its lights. It took me a while to get to where I am now with my tree… For the first 3 years I was here I had a small tree, and gained a few more decorations for it each year in my red/gold color scheme. I simply got the most traditional decorations when I saw them here in China… a challenge at times… but by the time I got a bigger tree last year along with a few more decorations and lights I had enough to look to me like a normal traditional tree, including a star for the top of the tree. This year was easy. I just needed to get it out and put it up and decorate it, no need to go shopping. I like having it, and students who visit me like to see it, and it is a touch of the traditional in a foreign place.

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