Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmastime is Here

Or rather it was.
Russians don't celebrate Christmas like the west. Here, the big holiday is New Year's and when people do celebrate Christmas is pretty much a religious holiday and is celebrated on January 7th. (The Orthodox church still goes by the old calendar) however people here are aware of the Western Christmas tradition.

I told Joel the other day that the last time I was in Russia I felt like I had no holidays because Russian holidays are different than American holidays and I didn't have tradition for Russian holidays. He made the good point that I now have the advantage of being able to celebrate all the holidays. This means that my holidays started December 24th and extend until January 7th. I know you're all jealous.

So how did I pass American Christmas? Well, it was interesting times, that's for sure. I had decided that since December 24th was Christmas eve, I was taking the day off to celebrate.  (When you work for God you can do that sort of thing. You know, decide when you're going to have time off and such. Yeah it's pretty much awesome) The only problem was, I wasn't sure how to celebrate. You know, since stuff here doesn't start for another week. Usually when I have a day off I'll do something like wander in the city or go window shopping or something but since this was Christmas eve, I wanted to do something...well... Christmas-y. Like watch a Christmas movie in English or something. The only problem: I have no idea where to do that sort of thing in St. Petersberg. I was rescued however from complete Christmas blues by having connections.

There are three nice young computer guys who attend the discussion club I lead at American Corners. The last time I lead discussion club, they all left me their email addresses in case I ever had some technical problems. I had gathered from things they'd said that they are all three very interested in English and have been to many English events in the city. So I pulled out their email addresses the week before Christmas and basically said "Hey, I'm looking for something to do for Christmas eve. Any ideas?"

Not long after sending the email out, I got a reply saying the American Council for Education (Or something like that) was having a Christmas party, they were going and I was welcome to come. I agreed and I also invited Marina from church. So on the appointed day we met and off we went.

It was epic times. We watched "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and played getting to know you games and other silly little games and it was just fun. I had been a little worried that I would still have to feel like I was "on" or "working" but I didn't at all. I got to relax, kick back, laugh and almost forget that I'm in Russia. Afterwards, our little group wandered around looking for a suitable cafe in which to hang out. We settled on Pizza Hut which turned out very well. I hadn't had "real" pizza since coming here and so it was nice to have some. We all shared a pizza and I complemented it with "Unlimited Lemonade" Yeah, it was a good night. Not only that, but it was great to just hang out at the cafe and talk about all kinds of different subjects. Even though I was in a Pizza Hut in Russia, speaking Russian, and surrounded by foreignness, it just felt... normal. Like "This is what I do, it's just in a different place and language now."

I find it a lot easier to reconcile into one person who I am this time around. On exchange there were times I felt completely Russian. Here, I know that I'm different. But it's okay. I'm not an American. I'm not Russian. I can operate with ease in both cultures. I'm a Christian woman with a U.S. passport who lives in St. Petersburg and speaks Russian. But also English. That's who I am and honestly, I think I have the best of both worlds. Actually, being in St. Petersburg makes me feel more like a "citizen of the world" rather than of one country (Maybe it's cliche, but it's true)

Christmas day, our Choir performed at the end of the church service. It was my first experience actually performing with the choir and so that was fun. After church, I was invited for Christmas dinner at the Petty apartment. That was a lot of fun and again, I could kind of kick back and embrace my American self a little more. We were also visited by Grandfather Frost who brought presents for the three Petty children. Here in Russia, children kind of have to earn their presents. Grandfather Frost comes and the kids have to guess riddles, sing and recite poetry for him. It's really cute. To my surprise, Grandfather also had a present for me. It was a heart pillow with huggy arms to remind me that I am loved by God and by people here. It was the perfect present.

After our meal (which was also attended by Zhenya, Sergei and baby Varya) and some fun conversation, we all returned to our respective homes. I spent the rest of the evening watching "A Christmas Story" and crocheting.

All in all, I would say it was a very successful Christmas and I immensely enjoyed it. Now I'm gearing up for round two as I'm attending the New Year party that's taking place at the Church on Saturday. Then after that it's off to Ukraine! Busy busy times! 

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