Saturday, 14 December 2013

Advent Activities in the Donaldsons Household

Well, finally it's starting to feel a lot more like Christmas in our house! This coming Sunday marks the start of my Advent and the second half of my husband's.

The thing is, Ian belongs to the Church of England and I am a Russian Orthodox.  And those religions celebrate Christmas 2 weeks apart! Without boring you too much I'll try to explain my understanding for such discrepancy.

Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar in 46 BC as a reform of the earlier Roman Calendar.  The Julian Calendar was based on the tropical or solar year and was a little shorter than an average year, which usually is 365.25 days (365 in a normal year and 366 in a leap year).

The error was corrected in 1582, when the Gregorian Calendar was introduced, where leap days were inserted according to a different rule.  The result was 13 days difference, for example, 1 January in the Julian Calendar is 14 January in the Gregorian.

Most countries in the world, including Russia, now use the Gregorian Calendar.  But the Orthodox Churches of Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Jerusalem, Serbia and Mount Athos still use the Julian Calendar and call it Old Style.

Phew! Hopefully you are still with me!

As the Donaldsons Household has 2 Christmases and 2 New Year Eves to celebrate, there is double of everything - shopping, cooking, decorating and, as a result, double excitement!

First thing first - Christmas tree.  As it has to stay "dressed up" until after the Old Style New Year (14 January), it normally does not move from the shelf in the garage to the lounge till at least 14 December.

Decorating the tree is a treat in itself.  It usually happens on a weekend evening.  "I am dreaming of a white Christmas" blaring from the speakers, glasses of sangria in hands and a little Christmas cake for extra joy and also to prevent me from stressing about all the plastic pine needles, glitter and bits of tinsels which I would have to deal with for the next month!

The rest of the house gets some attention too.  In order not to spread pine needles, glitter and bits of tinsels all over the house I like using garlands of lights and scented candles around the place.
Would you believe it, I am so old-fashioned that I still send Christmas cards to people!  Between the two of us we usually send a dozen cards overseas and another dozen to friends and family in Australia.  And I like getting Christmas cards too! Those of you who have not sent me one yet, you still have time. As long as I receive it by 14 January, I will be happy! And NO, sms or e-mail don't substitute the handwritten ones.

I love traditional Christmas food - glazed ham, turkey with cranberry sauce, pudding with custard, fruit mince pies with double cream, buttery shortbread biscuits! I simply don't understand how one can be bored with those if we only have the stuff once a year!

But surely we all know that Christmas is not about tinsels and pigging out, despite the fact that on Boxing Day I start looking forward to the next year's ham, turkey and pudding.

Christmas is about love, sharing and giving.  We consider ourselves blessed to have people in our lives who we usually share Christmas with.  Our social calendar usually gets booked out nearly every weekend in December and also spreads to Fridays and sometimes even sneaks into the "school nights".

Family, friends, work colleagues, neighbors - I believe that in the age of disjointed relationships  it's important to meet with people who are dearest to you, to share food, stories, a few laughs and the message of Christmas: Love and joy that you give to others, is love and joy that comes back to you!
Christmas celebrations in Russia differs significantly from the rest of the Christian world. Initially Christmas holidays were associated with traditional folk customs, but with the arrival of socialism in 1918 the celebration of Christmas was banned.

Only in 1935 did the Soviet government allow Russians to decorate Christmas trees again - although not for Christmas but New Year.  If before 1918 Christmas was celebrated everywhere, and the New Year was much less important holiday, then under the Soviet rule the holidays swapped, so to say. The Soviet Union was the only country in the world where New Year holiday absorbed all the attributes of Christmas while remaining purely a secular holiday.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the New Year has remained a traditional family holiday, while  more and more people celebrate Christmas by attending church, remembering the religious meaning of Christmas.

I would like to share a story which happened last year. While flying his remote-controlled helicopter inside the house (boys with their toys!), Ian broke the beautiful spire which topped our Christmas tree.  He rushed to the shops to find another topper to replace the broken one, so that I did not get upset.  As it was only a couple of days before Christmas, the selection of Christmas decorations was very poor and Ian was forced to buy the only thing available in the shop!  When I got home that day, the first thing I saw was a red Soviet-style five-pointed star on top of our tree. I could not hide my disapproval!  The star ended up in the bin, and instead we found a beautiful angel figure to crown our Christmas tree.

Well, it's beginning to feel a lot more like Christmas in our house! The gifts are organised, the Christmas lunch menu is planned, the house is scrubbed inside and out and the family is invited to share the joy of Christmas with us.  And we are going to have a two-and-a-half year old rug rat, who is absolutely essential for Christmas fun! If you don't have one, I strongly recommend doing something about it quickly, perhaps hire for the day!
On that note, I would like to wish you all a wonderful festive season, whichever way you choose to celebrate! May your homes and your hearts be filled with love, compassion, tolerance, peace and happiness! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

PS. Heartfelt Thank You for following my blog! My next post will come to your "mailboxes" after Christmas.