Christmas Abroad

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We came back to Ukraine in the height of the Christmas season just in time to spend Christmas and New Years in Ukraine.  Another autumn in the U.S. quickly passed by us. We enjoyed our time back in the U.S.  Our days were filled with work and opportunities to visit family, friends, and churches and share stories about our ministry and time spent in Ukraine during the winter, spring, and summer months. We are very thankful to all of you who have provided us with work and lodging this past autumn. Your generosity towards us and our work in Ukraine is greatly appreciated. We are thankful to so many of you who have been financially generous and who have given of your time and energy to support us and allow us to serve the Lord in Eastern Europe.  We could not be here without you.  Thank you for partnering with us in this ministry!

Only once in the many years that I (Eric) have been coming to Ukraine have I had the opportunity to celebrate Christmas here.  Stacey has never been here over the holidays.  We were excited to celebrate the birth of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with our brothers and sisters here in Ukraine.  It was interesting to be here for Christmas and to experience the culture and holiday traditions around us.  We enjoyed delicious and plentiful food, as families and friends came together for Christmas, with significantly less emphasis on gifts, but possibly too much emphasis on food.

Christmas and New Years are busy times in the church.  Congregations come together for services on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the Second Day of Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and normal Sunday gatherings.  Many pastors have multiple congregations.  One pastor friend of ours, without complaint, conducted 14 church services and gave 7 different sermons in the span of 11 days.  Ukraine and Russian along with the rest of the Eastern Orthodox world recognize the Eastern Orthodox Liturgy Calendar.  Christmas is celebrated on January 7 with Christmas Eve being observed on January 6.  In Transcarpathia, historically part of Hungary but today a rural cosmopolitan area of Ukrainians, Hungarians, Russians, Romanians, Slovaks, and Roma, various Christmas traditions and customs exist side by side.

We spent a quiet New Year’s Eve at home.  Outside was a different matter.  In much of Europe it is customary to shoot off fireworks at the changing of the year. This tradition exists here, with the streets sounding as if they are plagued with anarchy in the height of a war zone. There seem to be no rules, laws or regulations on fireworks.  Private fireworks of all sizes, colors and shapes illuminated the night sky from all directions around us.  A number of men from around here have served the past few years on the Eastern front of Ukraine against Russia and I was curious how the explosions of fireworks in the villages affected them.  We went out into our yard and watched the display in our pajamas.  Someone was setting off fireworks behind the Hungarian Reformed church and from our vantage point it was especially nice to watch as the church and steeple were illuminated by the fireworks in the night sky.  After the lengthy multi-cultural Christmas holiday season, we were excited for the high school to finally resume classes in the middle of January, followed by the colleges and universities in the middle of February following their exam period.

The above photo was taken at a Christmas Market on Szent Istvan Square in Budapest.

About Eric Hoeksema

Stacey, my wife, and I are located in western Ukraine, living with and working among a Hungarian population in Transcarpathia, Ukraine.

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