Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Christmas Day, Turku, Finland, 2007

It is amazing how difficult it is to practice my faith in Christ; to spend time in meditation and contemplation, to talk about Him and matters of following Him, and to find a place of worship in a foreign place. Traditions and religious practices are much easier to prepare for, get caught up in and spend time doing.

We had missed going to Sunday services because the International, English-speaking service was in the late afternoon and didn’t fit well into the schedule of things we were doing before Christmas Eve. We had heard the church bells ring out of the cathedral tower down the street from our borrowed apartment, but knew we would be hopelessly lost in a service spoken only in Suomi. Besides, there was a tree to cut and who wants to miss that? Not I, said all of us at once.

What is the tree for, again? Sometimes it feels like an object of worship. We sit around and enjoy its sparkle and fun. We await the gifts it bears beneath its branches. We enjoy its scent throughout the house. We curse its dying, one needle at a time, all over our flooring. We leave the tree to brown and take years to decompose on the sides of our streets for a few years. Huh? Weird practice. Fun, but weird.

Pasi told us that the traditional Finnish Christmas morning involves a visit from Santa (either hired, someone in the family or a friend doing a favor) who visits all the little children with a gift. He comes through the door, though, not through the chimney—how comfortable for the Finnish Santa!

I had seen several Santa suits for sale in the stores and thought about getting one so Pasi would be out of his misery “making arrangements.” In the end, we decided that Hunter would be so enamored with the gifts he received on Christmas Eve that he wouldn’t miss a tradition he’s never done. It was true.

Christmas morning, Hunter and Phil were already building new Lego and Knex vehicles and enjoying each other while I fussed about with other things. It seems we made a lunch out of Christmas Eve leftovers at Pasi and Monica’s. Monica looked forward to having a much needed rest from kitchen duties and having to speak so much English while the rest of us went to church.

Pasi was gracious to help us get to church on Christmas Day at the Turku Cathedral. The service was held in a small room off of the foyer, but with the Christmas candelabras burning and other candles in the rocky nooks and crannies, it was perfect. We sang Carols and hymns, accompanied by either a recorder or the small pipe organ. Our singing was interspersed with readings from the Christmas Story and Psalms. The message was given by a pregnant woman priest about integrating our separate family traditions into something shared by the family—especially handed down to our children—and weaving in the story of “God with us.” Afterward, we took a very solemn, sacred communion while the children in the room scampered up and down the isles and between the pews (including our son). The Benediction was especially moving. I had been longing to worship in church since I had been ill for so many weeks and unable to attend any services.

It was dark when we emerged from the Cathedral (also having wandered around and taken photos). The huge tree in front of the Cathedral lit up the park-like square outside of the church. I had Pasi and Hunter demonstrate how large the tree was by standing under it for me. There was absolutely no way to get the whole tree in a frame, except from afar. Pasi said there was a story behind that tree, but I cannot recall it, now. It seems to have been a gift from another parish.

Pasi was good to let us try our hand at night photos, stopping here and there around town. As usual, because I refuse to use a tripod, mine are fuzzy, but they still give you an idea of how beautiful Turku is at night. It was wet and cold and not as beautiful as they say it is on a snowy Christmas Day, but the lights of Christmas were beautiful.

We would spend the rest of the day lounging, eating leftovers, and making butterscotch chip (from The States) cookies and watching more of Donald Duck and friends.

Pasi took me on an evening walk through his neighborhood. He showed me his favorite decorations in the neighborhood and where his friend, Mica, lived. We had a good chat. What are brothers and sisters for, anyway, if not for walking and talking?

We had already enjoyed filling Monica in on our experiences as brother and sister some years ago—the Thanksgiving mishaps, and more. Monica and I had discovered that many of our treasures were the same from childhood, as if we’d lived parallel lives though we are idealistically very different. I count Monica as a wonderful new Sister-in-law and feel no regrets about making her speak deeply with me, and challenging the breadth of her English. After all, she’d lived a year in Florida and was simply out of practice (though, truly, I wished I could easily drop into her language and take the burden of communicating off of her—even Swedish would have been much easier for her).

It was a most relaxing Christmas.

Hallelujah! Christ the King, Son of the Living God and God Himself, humbled Himself in the form of a baby--born to dwell with us, sympathize with us, plead our sinful case before the Father and save us from our sins! It's a wonder beyond words, and I know, oftentimes hard to believe.

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