Merry Russian Christmas!

Today is Christmas day for Russia, Ukraine and other Orthodox-based countries.

Last night I was invited with a group of friends to a big traditional holiday celebration. The main family included grandparents, parents, grown-up children, cousins and the girlfriend of one family member. There were also family friends including myself and my American friend.

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The room was quite small for that many people, but it made it very cosy. It was nice to see the Soviet era furniture. It reminded me of my old flat in Krasny Luch. That type of furniture was BULK built to the same specifications. Every house, all over the USSR would have the exact same furniture. And it was built to last!
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There were 12 main dishes put on the table, as well as some salads. Most of them were really to my liking. Others…suited different people’s taste buds. My particular favourites were the goose, one of the fish dishes, the savoury pancakes, the mashed potato and a sweet dish made with honey, poppy seeds and crushed nuts.
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After the main course we sang Christmas songs. The Ukrainians sung some very traditional Ukrainian songs. Myself and my friend then sung some traditional English/American songs like “Good King Wenceslas” and “Hark the Herald Angels sing”. We also heard stories from Christmases past, and of important family events.

After the singing and the stories…dessert! Pancakes with cottage cheese and a couple of different cakes. Very tasty!

This morning (Christmas day) we had a 10am church service. The choir had done a wonderful job with Christmas songs. It was a shame I didn’t know them, but since they are only sung once or twice a year, it is understandable. They also sung some more normal worship songs.

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What is interesting to me as an English Christian – some of their worship songs involve thanking God for Ukraine, or asking God to protect Ukraine. These are always sung with great gusto from the crowd.
In Ukraine this is apparently normal, but I cannot imagine an English church singing “God bless The UK” or “God protect the English!” (I think there is a Nigel Farage joke here somewhere!)

So, that was my Christmas! I hope you enjoyed yours.

Thanks for reading!

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Today was the big day! Christmas Star 2015!

Today was the event we had spent two months preparing for.
“Christmas Star” went very well this morning. The drama team arrived at 8am for one final practice.

We were a bit surprised that some children arrived almost an hour early for the event. A church member brought 27 children from the local orphanage on his minibus. 80 refugee families were invited by home visits from members of the church. Also families the church already has involvement in, and the church member’s kids of course!

It started at 10am. We had many crazy games, a couple of times of Hillsongs style worship (“Jesus, you’re my superhero” in Russian!) and a very good drama. Most of the Church young people were involved in it. Several refugees who were new members to the church were able to help and build closer friendships to the other members. The main drama director and her daughter (who played Mary) were both from Donetsk, fleeing the war.
The children were in two teams (red and green). The parents mainly sat at the back. Most children were between 5-11, but there were a few younger and older.
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I had them singing “We wish you a merry christmas” in English. Apparently my Russian is getting better, because some children did not believe I was really English!
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We finished at 11:50, and then the children were each given the gift box as they left.
Each gift box was full of toys and gifts. Each had a 54 piece puzzle, a cuddly sheep, a small farm/zoo animal, 2 glow-in-the-dark stars and 15 different types of sweet/chocolate. The box also had a message in Russian inviting them to join the church at 10am on Sunday, and wishing them a Merry Christmas.
The parents and the children seemed to have had lots of fun. They were calling for more at the end! They were all invited to our church Christmas service tomorrow at 10am.

Sadly I did not get an exact number of children and adults. We estimate 130 children (134 gift boxes given) and 40 parents. The remaining 16 gift boxes were given to the orphanage.
The drama team will be re-showing the drama to a local children’s hospital some time this week.

Here is a video of the event, including the whole drama (that I wrote in English and had translated).

In the evening I went to a friend’s home for a large gathering for Christmas, but I will save that for tomorrow.

Thanks for reading!!!

I want to remind you – I want your questions for a friend still inside the Ukrainian warzone. What to know what it is really like? Ask in the comments, and I will get them to answer next week.

Tomorrow will be busy….

So tonight you just get a photo of Titus. He lives his new cage, but is still trying to escape whenever possible.
(He was named after Titus Groan, 77th Earl of Ghormanghast – who was always trying to leave the castle of Ghormanghast. Read Melvyn Peake for more info!)

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Titus, playing with tonight’s entertainment – a box

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Begging his jailer for more free time!

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See that blur? Yep, that’s Titus

Sunday

Sunday for me means church.
The church here is called Light of Life. The young people love to point out they go to the LoL church!

I’ve been organising a big event to help refugees and orphans in Boyarka. We have 150 gift boxes ready for the children. The drama team has been rehearsing and today was a dress rehearsal.
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It is always a long day though on Sunday. Church starts at 10am, normally finishing at 1pm. The young people (15-30s) then stay to eat lunch together (or rehearse a drama!) before the young people’s meeting 3pm-6pm. Then I run home to have my weekly scheduled Skype call with my parents.

Thanks for reading!

EDIT!!
I forgot to mention. The youth group has grown a lot since the civil war started. Todays meeting had 26 young (15-30s) people, of which at least 5 were from Donetsk region. It is great the church is a safe place for refugees (like myself) to start again