An Unusual Christmas Eve
Three years ago today (yes, January 7, not Dec. 25) it was about 10 degrees F. at midnight (yes, not in California) and I experienced an unforgettable Christmas Eve. One never to be repeated, but always cherished.
You may have already guessed that I was in Russia, where Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on January 7. The holiday is centered on the birth of Christ (what a concept!), and the churches are full in spite of the freezing temperatures and the mid-winter darkness.
As it turned out, I was welcomed into the festivities of Nina and Volodya Barthotkin—close neighbors of Alla (with whom I stay) and people whom I’ve grown to know and care for since the beginning of my visits to Samara in 2001. Together we tromped through the snow to the church, stood for the service, tromped back to their place, and enjoyed a cozy meal in Nina’s kitchen along with her sister and another couple who were close friends of theirs. I understood I was included in a rather intimate setting—and felt humbled and honored. And awkward too. You see, none of them spoke English. And my Russian was, and is, still sorely lacking. I smiled and nodded a lot.
Where was Santa?
(By the way, Russians celebrate with exchanging gifts, drinking, parties, Santa (known there as Father Frost), decorated trees, cookies, fireworks, etc. on New Years Eve. So all those kinds of fun things had happened already, and I also experienced that to the max. Take a peek at my blog post HERE.)
In contrast, the Christmas Eve experience was certainly more mellow and contemplative. At the time, I didn’t realize how unforgettable—and precious it would become. I knew it would most likely be the only Christmas I would experience in Samara—but I didn’t know it would be one of the last times I would spend with Nina.
We lost her to cancer in September of this year. During my visits between that Christmas and now, she hadn’t been as active in attending our Bible studies or hosting tea parties as she had in the past. But I didn’t have any idea she was sick. I’m not sure anyone knew.
You know, sometimes when you’re in “the moment,” you don’t grasp the significance or the preciousness of it. I confess that I didn’t fully comprehend how important Nina’s hospitality was to me that cold, winter’s night in 2014. It wasn’t what I had expected (or imagined) Christmas Eve to be like. I’m always self-conscious when I can’t fully participate in conversations–don’t “get” the jokes–or know the customs. But that never stopped Nina from opening her home and heart to make room for me. What a gift.