Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Bosnian Merry Christmas!

Up to this year, all of my holiday seasons have looked like what most of yours will probably look like this year: being serenaded by Christmas music ALL the time, expressing disgust at how Walmart puts Christmas trees out earlier every year, playing Sleigh Ride by heart for multiple Christmas concerts (for all you musicians), promising yourself you'll never wait till the last second to buy gifts again, and enjoying more than enough egg nog, pumpkin bread, fudge, pumpkin spice lattes, and gingerbread cookies to last me for the rest of the year. Yumm.

It probably goes without saying that this Christmas is VASTLY different than any I’ve had before! Not only is this Christmas being spent away from family, it is being spent in a city that’s 95% Muslim, which means a city that doesn’t celebrate Christmas.

(disclaimer: There is a small population of those of the orthodox faith here, but they don’t celebrate Christmas until January. More information on their customs, beliefs, etc. can be found in various references.)

Here are some tangible differences: just like all government offices, the post office will be open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (I’m grateful since I’m anticipating a few packages!! Woo hoo!). The only way to make anything pumpkin related is to smash and bake the pumpkin yourself. (There's also no semi-sweet chocolate chips!) There’s just ONE public place that’s been airing Christmas music: the most expensive café in town and even THEY don’t do it all the time. You CAN actually find a few places with Christmas decorations, but they are the exception, not the rule. (5 years ago, you wouldn’t have found ANYTHING!) When you see them, you feel compelled to shamelessly take awkward-look-at-me-I’m-a-foreigner pictures in the middle of supermarkets. Like… this one:

I really wish I could have also taken a picture of the look the woman gave me after I took that picture, but I was too slow with the draw. (A lot of Bosnians have this thing about hating to have their picture taken! I guess I wouldn't be happy about it either is some foreigner starting taking random pictures of me.)

You can also play the game where you pretend that all the New Years decorations are for Christmas. Like… this one!

Did you know that Happy New Year actually means Merry Christmas in English? At least, I'm pretty sure it does.

And of course, the weather is vastly different. While I had gotten used to checking for school closings at the first sign of one measly snowflake, it snowed 8 days straight here with 8 inches falling on just the first night! You can get a taste of that from my picture below. This was in Budapest last weekend.

I'd like to point out the weather was -16 (F) by the time we got back to the hostel. We were troopers! J

I wasn’t sure how this Christmas season was going to be for me. I’ve heard horror stories from others living overseas at how hard it is during the holidays. I knew I was going to miss my family and friends- but how bad was it going to be?

To answer your question, yes, of course, I miss my family and friends, and I anticipate missing them even more over the next few days. I miss being surrounded by the Christmas atmosphere. (Part of the reason we chose to go specifically to Budapest was because they celebrate Christmas) I also specifically have missed being a part of a Christmas concert- whether that be conducting or performing.

But, even with all of that, I’m thankful to be spending my Christmas here in Sarajevo! I have some major hesitations in writing that statement because I don’t want to minimize how much I miss my family. But really, I've already learned so much from celebrating here and am grateful to be here (and grateful for Skype!)! Here the biggest changes/observations from me:

1. Making a conscious choice to celebrate Christmas, instead of doing it just because you are supposed to and are surrounded by it, carries incredible significance.

2. All of a sudden, I’m not celebrating Jesus’ birth because its Christmas time. I’m celebrating Christmas because now is specifically a time to celebrate Jesus’ birth. (Even though, really, we could do this all year!)

3. Seeing the lack of understanding about Christmas has been yet another encouragement to live a life of intentionality.

4. Christmas carols I've heard a million times have taken new meaning as I intentionally focus and reflect on the words. Who knew things I've sang since elementary school had so much depth???

O Holy Night and O Come All Ye Faithful have become my new favorite Christmas carols: the former because it beautifully tells the impact of Jesus' birth and the latter because it tells us what we should be actively doing during this season.

I'll post a FEW verses from each that have been particularly meaningful to me. I'd encourage you to read the words without trying to sing along- at least the first time!

O Holy Night

Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn...

The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger.

Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise HIs holy name.

(check out this fantastic blog for more background on this and other carols:

O Come All Ye Faithful

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Sretan Božić!!! (Merry Christmas!)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Visa Application

This picture is my attempt to give an excuse for my blogging absence over the past few weeks. Now that all the paperwork for my visa is ready (woo hoo!), I hope to post more thoughts to blogging world shortly! Till then, I'm leaving you with a fantastic quote I stumbled upon:  

We do NOT need the grace of God to withstand crises- human nature
and pride are sufficient for us to face the stress and strain magnificently.
But it DOES require the supernatural grace of God to
live twenty-four hours of every day as a saint, 
going through drudgery, and living an ordinary, unnoticed,
and ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus.

It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God-
but we do not.
We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life,
and holy on the ordinary streets,
among ordinary people- and this is not learned in five minutes."

-Oswald Chambers "My Utmost for His Highest" -Oct 21 entry
By the way, if you don't have this book, GET IT!!! Right now, for under $5!!! Go, Go, Go! 

Merry Christmas!