I have now returned to Ukraine for KCA's spring semester, and was able to celebrate Christmas with my "family" here. It is great to be back, and I haven't had much jet lag.
Today the temperature was above freezing, which has its advantages and disadvantages. It means the ice and snow are melting, which makes walking easier, but that means there are lots of puddles and those puddles will freeze again overnight.
It has felt like a bit of a time warp, since I am celebrating Christmas again. Today I got an email from someone at Nazarene headquarters, and was confused, thinking, "It's a holiday--why is she emailing me today?"
Below is a brief summary of some of the Ukrainian Christmas happenings.
Christmas Eve (January 6)
I joined the Wrights, Skinners, Stoddards, and Mannas at the Skinners' apartment for a fun-filled evening of conversation, Photo Booth (with Kate and Megan), dinner, music and singing, and Turbo Cranium.
We shared many stories and much laughter!
Church Service: Кристос народився! (Christ is born!)
This morning, our church held a Christmas service, which was not like a regular Sunday service. It was a mixture of congregational singing, the praise team singing, Scripture readings, object lessons, and the usual sermon, offering, and pastoral prayer. (The following details are not in order of how they happened, but as I think of them now.)
We sang Angels We Have Heard on High, Joy to the World, and Days of Elijah as a congregation, and the praise team sang many more songs, including Mary Did You Know, O Holy Night, Silent Night, O Come O Come Emmanuel, and Be Thou My Vision. Josh S. also played a song on his guitar!
Our scripture passages included those from Genesis 1 (God creating man), Genesis 9 (God's covenant with Noah), Isaiah, Luke 2, John 1:1-14. I had never heard the passage about God's covenant with Noah connected with Christmas before, nor had I really seen a connection of Christmas (Christ's first coming) with Christ's second coming. Of course, Christ was born in order to die, and He rose from the grave, and is going to come again--but in all the Christmas sermons I've heard, I don't think any of them have mentioned Christ's second coming.
A special offering was taken for House of James 1 and 2, located in Selishe, Vinnitsya oblast. The kids of HOJ will be in Kiev this Sunday for a special children's program. In summer 2008, Nadine and I were able to tour HOJ 1 and meet the house parents and a few of the kids. We didn't get to stay long, but I hope to meet the kids again this weekend.
During the Sunday school section, Pastor Vova had the kids light each of the Advent candles and reviewed their meanings (hope, joy, love, and something else). At the end of the service, he talked about the symbolism of the candy cane, and gave one to everyone attending the service.
After church, Josh, Robyn, Dougie, and I made our way through the slush and ice down Artema for a few blocks then caught a bus. We walked down to Khreschatyk, which was closed to cars today. Walking down the road was a lot easier--less slushy and icy--than on the sidewalks.
We spotted these carolers, dressed in what I assume are traditional costumes. I don't know the significance of the 8-pointed stars, but we have one hanging in our church too.
The entire Kiev missions team (I think) plus a few folks met at TGI Friday's for lunch together. We had the Wrights, Skinners, Trino, Josh/Robyn, Sabine (who works at the Eurasia Regional Office), Dougie, Saskia (another volunteer) and her cousins, and myself.
In terms of nationalities represented: American, Dutch, German, Scottish, Costa Rican. I enjoy being with people from all over the world. :)
Around 6:45 pm, well after I'd gotten home, our doorbell rang. I assumed it was Jodi coming back from school, and though I looked out the peephole, I couldn't see anything because our light bulb burnt out.
When I opened the door, two young girls were standing there. They said something in Russian, most of which I didn't understand. I told them, "I don't speak a lot of Russian," but somehow invited them in.
They proceeded to recite something and then sing a tune; I recognized only a few words, and had never heard the tune before. Fortunately, my friend Zee was able to name the song with the 2 words I recognized, and find it on Youtube for me.
Here is the song that the girls sang. Another teacher at KCA tells me that the song means "rejoice the earth, God's child is born" and starts with "good evening to you landlord, set the tables, the guests will come," etc. etc.
Afterwards, I somehow knew that I should invite them in for some sort of dessert/sweets or something, but since they didn't seem to be coming in any further, I told them I had a little American candy (конфета) and grabbed some of my butterscotch candy.
As they left, they said "Merry Christmas" (in English; I can't remember if they said it in Russian too). In retrospect, it felt almost like trick-or-treating (since I gave them candy), and I think I knew to give them something sweet to eat was because I read it on someone's blog (either someone else in Ukraine, or someone in Russia, or possibly even someone in Romania--I follow so many blogs...).
What a lovely surprise!
Within my experiences thus far in Ukraine, I don't have a complete picture of the traditions, their origins, and their significance. For more information about Ukrainian Christmas traditions, visit this blog.