No stocking. No tree with tinsel. No roast dinner. Is this really Christmas?
Not as I knew it, perhaps.
Christmas was beautiful in Tomsk. Ice-skating on a lake at night, Christmas trees on every square (or rather, New Year’s trees – a relic of Soviet times when religion was forbidden), hoards of ice sculptures. Walking at night through the wintry city, lights dancing on the snow, was like walking through another world: this was true winter, a real winter wonderland. Nor was the beauty limited to the streets of the city: Iona and I were invited to spend the evening of 1st December with a family from church, and together we decorated a tiny tree in their two-room flat to mark the beginning of advent. For me, it was immeasurably valuable to be allowed to share their small family celebration, especially as I would be missing mine.
And then, before the day itself, I moved on…
Christmas was beautiful in Moscow. Everything was on a bigger scale: vast ice-rinks, enormous Christmas trees, bright colours and lights and decorations everywhere. A glittering city dressed to impress. If you’ve ever been to Moscow, you’ve surely visited Red Square – and even if you haven’t, you have likely heard of it, seen pictures of it. It is iconic. Thus, walking into the heart of Moscow on my first morning there with Saul, snow gently falling, and seeing St Basil’s Cathedral at the far end of the Square, it felt as if I was walking into a fairy-tale painting. Beside Red Square sparkled the state department store, revealing a wealth of treasures inside and capitalism at its most magnificent. We went to Christmas markets and toyshops, the conservatoire and the Bolshoi Theatre.
And then, with only a week to go, I moved on…
Christmas was beautiful here in Austria, too, of course. Midnight Mass, in a full and exquisitely decorated little church, rendered a certain amount of familiarity to the occasion, and the message was as wonderful as it always is: Christ is born! The following morning, however, I had to remind myself that it was Christmas Day. No stocking, no tree with tinsel, no roast dinner… Instead, I overslept and rushed to work, where I did my best to teach a five-year-old and two adults how to stay upright on skis. My afternoon off I spent skiing, and in the evening I went out for a meal with the family and friends of my Dutch colleague Liante. We laughed a lot and ate extremely well – yet it still didn’t feel like Christmas, because it wasn’t my family.
And then it was over.
Was it really Christmas? The answer: yes! Unfamiliar, but blessed. I hope you, too, are enjoying a blessed Christmas season.
FROHE WEIHNACHTEN UND EINEN GUTEN RUTSCH INS NEUE JAHR!