It all started differently this year. Advent was mostly spent in a 30-day retreat, so there was no shopping rush. Christmas took a new turn as well: our older daughter and her family only arrived after Christmas (our son-in-law was incapacitated with a sciatica). Our younger daughter, fortunately, came in as planned and we three spent a quiet Christmas, with the hovering worry of whether the four others would be able to make it at some point (which they did).

There just has been a lot more silence then this year than in previous years, and I wonder how I could ‘plan’ something similar for the years to come (minus the illness). Of course, I had ordered mountains of chocolate and foods of all kinds, which will be consumed by the time the holidays are over, so all was not entirely different. The extent of our gifts was only a bit more minimalist than usual.

The silence came as a gift. The very simple Christmas meal (salad and steamed potatoes), a treat. There is a depth to silence, especially in the winter. At times we were busy together, at others reading by the fire, every bit thoroughly enjoyable — and healing, somehow.

How vital is it to be caught in the hectic rush of daily life? How essential is it to consume, to buy, to accumulate? How ‘real’ is our way of life? How productive (or Kingdom-like) is it to focus entirely on oneself and one’s immediate family and friends to celebrate a cosmic event like Christmas?

The challenge facing me now is to draw simple lessons from what happened this year and to change patterns which, over my lifetime, have become unconscious. Old habits ‘drive’ me. Coming back from our retreat, I fell right back in my decade-old ways. I did not even pause to think, I immediately moved to action and resumed living as I did before I left. Luckily, as if any setback (health or otherwise) could be called ‘lucky’, a change of plans, bringing worries and disappointment in a first moment, has brought about of feeling of ease and space and well-being which was not there in previous years.

Our family is now complete. We are so accustomed to living together that it feels normal to share the small kitchen and spread out through the living-room. Right now, alone in my room, hearing muffled voices coming from downstairs, in the cosiness of my silent space, I sit in wonder at the miracle of togetherness, at the spaciousness of silence, at this ‘Godde feeling’ pervading the house.

Silence is a gift which allows me to connect with timelessness and all that happened long ago. The past whispers affectionately… I watch the snow falling softly past the street light…

All is well in my world. May it be the same in yours.

Illustration: Norman Rockwell, Tired Salesgirl on Christmas Eve