A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Gift Giving

My mission contained two Christmases. The first one was with a Russian companion and the second one was with a Ukrainian companion. Christmas on your mission is obviously a lot different from "regular" Christmases, but some things remain the same. I still got gifts and got to eat a special meal. However, it's the differences that I wanted to blog a bit about. I'll start with the first Christmas and maybe another day I'll talk about the second.

My first Christmas on my mission was in a tiny city 2,000 miles from the mission home. Missionaries called it "Pai" (Paradise) because it had a very high baptism rate. I thought it was a paradise because of the wonderful way members treated us. People in that city in Russia are just dang nice. During the beginning weeks of December, my companion and I had many progressing investigators and she decided to challenge all of them to get baptised. In the end, many of them did, some of them on Christmas.

Our district had a baptismal service on Christmas Day - the most beautiful expression of "White Christmas." Five people got baptised that day,* and I remember thinking what a sweet experience it was and that it would surely be among my top Christmases of all time. The baptism was in the "Yolki Polki" (literally, "Christmas Tree Sticks" it's an expression in Russian) Sauna. It was kind of an odd place to have a baptism, but I just remember being so very very happy. Even if I couldn't understand everything that was said, I felt the spirit of truth and was so happy for these people who had made a choice to follow Christ, the whole reason for Christmas.

The baptism was followed by a Christmas party with all the church members. Actually to be honest I'm not sure it was the same exact day as the baptism, but I know it was around Christmas. We missionaries arrived and found that no activities had been planned for the party!!! So, the party started 45 minutes late so that we could plan everything - spiritual thought, an acapella version of "O Holy Night" that turned out surprisingly well, me playing the piano very poorly, and a live manger scene involving some hastily conceived costumes. Again, I remember a feeling of warm contentment and happiness.

Another thing I remember about that Christmas was my companion's reaction to presents. My mom had sent me a big package (actually, two - just in case one didn't get there on time), and my companion was so excited she literally did not want to wait until Christmas morning! She had already received and opened her Christmas package days before (full of her favorite Russian candy). I would almost say she was childishly excited, but that has a pejorative connotation - except maybe at Christmas, when childish wonderment is all around. She was very excited about the gift that my parents included in the package for her. Then, I remember very distinctly what she did after I opened all my gifts. She gathered up all the discarded wrapping paper and used it to wrap gifts for so many people - she gave away a lot of things that were in her Christmas package, and didn't mind a bit. She wanted to create the same kind of excitement that she had in opening her gifts. That Christmas taught me that Christmas about giving.

"To Give is Better than to Receive" - much as I like receiving presents, I love giving something, especially when I find the perfect gift for someone.

*Not all of them our investigators, don't want you to think I'm some kind of super missionary!


  1. Well, you certainly *were* a super missionary, and I do believe you still are now!

  2. Hehe, you said paradise was "Pai" and if a Ukrainian were reading it they'd pronounce it correctly. For the english speakers it's pronounced like "Rye". I still occasionally mix up Latin and Cyrillic letters when reading things all the time. I'll never get over the schizophrenic store "Toys Я Us". I remember a companion once writing the word "Gratefulность" and he knew something was wrong with it but couldn't figure out where the mistake was.

    That was a sweet Christmas story. I remember having one baptism near Christmas that was also in a sauna. Who knew that a sauna could conjure up feelings of gratitude and an outpouring of the spirit?

  3. I was just about to point out the "Pai," but it looks like I got beat. I wrote "Chpistmas" once and couldn't figure out what was wrong for the longest time. Oh, to be back in Russia for Christmas.
    I like that since New Year's is the big holiday it gets all the material focus, leaving Christmas the week after as a wholly religious day truly focused on the Savior. Thanks for the chance to reflect on wonderful times gone by.