Picture this. It is a cold December night in Berlin. Suddenly, as if on cue, people stream out from every building onto the streets. Most of them are armed with champagne and lots of fireworks. For a good half hour, it’s as if the whole city explodes. It’s midnight but the sky is brightly lit and it’s hard to know where to look first.
Are you with me? Are you picturing the scene? Ok, try again. Whatever you saw in your imagination likely wasn’t loud enough, crazy enough, scary enough, or breath-taking enough. Oh the fun it is to experience this with someone who has never spent New Year’s Eve in Germany! We try to prepare people, to tell them what to expect. But invariably, when midnight strikes, it goes far beyond anything they imagined! It seems all the cultural norms they had learned (like being quiet in public, not striking up conversations with strangers, not littering) no longer apply. The whole city, the whole country, is partying!
I always find it a bit jarring to go from a quiet, contemplative few days (in German, there is even an expression for it – “zwischen den Jahren,” meaning “between the years”) to that. And then, within a day or two, back to normal life.
Truth be told, I am more naturally drawn to the quiet, reflective times. Exuberant parties aren’t so much my thing. Yet as I’ve been reflecting on the contrasts this season brings, I’m beginning to wonder if they might be not so much contrasts but rather parts of a whole. As I look back on the year, I readily remember the hard times and the challenges. There were plenty, and it’s good to recognize them. To give myself space to feel the pain and grieve the losses.
Yet so many good things happened as well! So much to celebrate! I don’t want to miss out on that, miss out on recognizing and marking the many ways the Lord blessed me this year! I need help making space for moving beyond my natural inclination, and New Year’s Eve might just provide that!
How about this year, as I watch the fireworks, I intentionally remind myself of all the reasons I can celebrate? As the colours light up the sky, I’ll be sure to remember so many good things: restored health, babies born to dear friends this year, amazing and surprising financial provision, a ministry dream becoming a reality, and not least seeing God’s faithfulness in it all! I wonder what patterns I can integrate throughout the year that will help me grow in celebrating the good. Ideas welcome!
This year, I’ll ring in the new year with some lovely teammates. It won’t be a wild party (well it might be – they do have two young kids) but I will look at those fireworks differently this year. And we’ll have people with us who as yet have no idea what they’re in for – can’t wait to see their faces as it all begins!
Let me leave you with a verse from a song often sung during New Year’s Eve services. It was written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who was imprisoned and ultimately executed for his opposition to the Nazi regime. He wrote these words while in prison, and just a few months before his death:
“By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
and confidently waiting come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning,
and never fails to greet us each new day.”
What a wonderful reminder that even though I do not know what this new year will hold, I can freely celebrate the good, knowing all of it is in God’s hands. Knowing I, too, am in His “caring and beloved hand” (as another line of the song goes)! What better reason for a party than that?
And should you ever find yourself in Germany on New Year’s Eve – you have been warned!
Do you more readily recognize the hard stuff and lean into that, or celebrate the good that has happened? What are some ways that help you hold the two at the same time?
Are there occasions your host culture seems to throw all the usual norms out the window?
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