Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas in Croatia...

I can hardly believe that Christmas has come and gone! Christmas here is so much more layed back than it is in the United States. But maybe I just think that because I did absolutely no shopping so I wasn't out in the thick of things like I usually am...They start their season two weeks before Christmas with St. Nicholas Day. The children clean their shoes and St.Nicholas puts treats in them. Kind-of like a Christmas stocking. No one takes off work or school, no huge big deal. We did see St.Nicholas down at the center of town, but he was with the devil or what it seemed to be, but later we found out that it was some one called "Black Pete" who is his helper. They sell branches with glitter on them, supposedly to spank bad children with. I looked up on line some history and here is a little of what I found.
 Strictly speaking, the tradition of St. Nicholas is not synonymous with the role of Santa Claus in the U.S.. As practiced in many European countries, the celebration of St. Nicholas is separate from the Christmas holidays, and occurs during the 2 weeks prior to December 6th, which is St. Nicholas day. Sometimes St. Nicholas Day is the main holiday for gift giving, and not Christmas. In anticipation of St. Nicholas nightly visits, children in several European countries put their shoes in front of the fire place. They sing traditional songs and provide a carrot or hay for the horse. At night Black Pete puts gifts and candy in the shoes.

 (December 6th). At one point during the evening, a loud knock will herald the arrival of St.Nicholas and at the same time candy may be thrown from upstairs; when the door is opened, a bag of gifts will be on the doorstep.
For families with older children and adults, different twists are added to the gift giving and may include gag gifts or the drawing of gift ideas or names, and most times are accompanied by poems with a "personal touch" that poke fun at the recipient in a gentle way (or not, depending on the families ;) ). Wrapping the presents up in odd packages and planting a trail of clues is also part of the general fun, and can sometimes be pretty tricky to get to, depending on the squeamishness of the recipients.

   So then on Christmas Eve they put up their Christmas tree...finally! You should have seen the flurry of activity two days before. All the sudden tree lots sprang up everywhere! Beautiful trees! Not huge ones like we have, (their homes are way too small to accommodate big, huge ones for the most part) but about 4  foot trees that were more like little bushes they were so full. No Charlie Brown trees here! They decorate them as a family and then they are left up until Feb. 2nd.
   Christmas Day is a family day where they gather with dinner and treats. I think Santa Clause is thrown in here at some point with gifts for the children, but certainly not indulged. The little girl in our ward got a Simba stuffed animal and I think that is about all. But no one gets stuff, so it's all good.
   As for Jim and I , we had the Elders over for a nice Christmas Eve dinner, they came a little early and helped cook. It was pretty fun. We had a member that doesn't have a family of his own here in Varazdin come over as well.
   Christmas Morning after they opened gifts from their families in their apartment, the Elders came over again and we pretty much spent the day playing games, eating leftovers and candy from our amazing boxes from home, (That's another blog) and of course Skyping. The Elders each got a turn talking to their parents and it was fun to see how excited they were. The time waiting for their arranged schedules were just so full of anticipation that by the time they actually visited with their families I think they were just exhausted!
   I found out earlier this week that the Croatian Christmas that the Zagreb Elders and Sisters were going to go to fell through at the last minute so they all went to Chinese Restaurant for Christmas dinner. I felt sooo bad! Zagreb is only an hours bus ride for them, they could have come to our house as well, had I known. I promise I will keep better tabs on what is going on in Zagreb next year!
   NOW! Here is the best part! We got packages from home!!! Boy did we get packages! The  23rd of December we had a wonderful Zone Conference/Christmas Party in Zagreb with all the Elders and Sisters in Croatia, all the Serbian Elders and the Humanitarian Couple from there as well, also the office couple, Elder and Sister Robinson and President and Sister Hill that came from Slovenia. It was an awesome conference. I will post pictures so you can see how much fun we had. And at the very end of the conference......da! da! We got PACKAGES!!!!  We could hardly wait to get home.. We almost had a mix up, but Jim saved the day. One of our packages was from our children and my sisters, our daughter, Charity posted it. It so happens that her last name is Jones, so one of the Elders who name is ELDER JONES started walking out the door with it. But Jim figured it out and retrieved the package for us. But after we saw the disappointed look on his face, we really felt bad for him..It was a really big package and he thought he'd hit the jackpot!
    We also got a package from our dear friends in Las Vegas and a package from Jim's brother and his wife from Mountain Green. Every one must have just been inspired, because we absolutely loved everything we got! I think I've gained another 5 lbs with all the delicious junk food! And my cupboards are still full! I've been eating pickles, yes, real pickles, like they were See's candy!  But I must admit the See's candy was the first to go! All our favorites...Yummmm
    We can't even begin to express how much the packages meant to us. They represented so much! Home, family, support, love and sacrifice of not only means but of time to put them together and get them sent over here at the busiest time of year. Each one of them, as we opened them made us feel like a couple of little kids on Christmas morning! How grateful we are to all of you who thought of us and made our first Christmas in the mission field so wonderful!
   Okay, I know this is bordering on being a book here, but we got one special thing in one of our packages that I just have to share with you. It was a new companion! His name is Elder Stanley. Our grand daughter Emma sent him over to us. And he has made our Christmas sooo fun!  Thank-you Emma, we are taking good care of him and will send him on his way soon. Many of our Christmas pictures have flat/ Elder Stanley in them so if you see a little paper Elder in a few pictures, that's why. Also, if you would like Flat Stanley to come visit you for a week or two, leave me a comment and I will get him to you.
   So Christmas has come and gone and we are anxious to get things back to normal. We are in Bosnia today and will see our little Bosnian family and will check on our Red Cross wheelchair shipment. Also we are going to a invalid hospital tomorrow as well.  We are still in the throws of the holiday season here in Bosnia, as their Christmas isn't until the 7th of January. Driving around town today was a joke! It's just a free for all is all I can say and I'm sure glad that when Jim prayed this morning he prayed for safety. I'm quite sure we had angels hovering over us protecting us from the crazy drivers and their lack of civility, good sense and ability to obey traffic signs!
   Next week we will be in Croatia and we are going to put in a project request for a children's hospital. It's a hospital that has about 100 children living in it that are disabled. When parents found out that their children had problems they just surrender them to this hospital.For many different reasons. I suspect the biggest one is money. Children with special needs require so much more money to raise and that is in short supply for most of the people here.  They need toys..Yeah! I hope I get to be on a toy buying mission soon! We will go visit the hospital next week I hope. I'll keep ya posted.
  Okay, this really is not a book.. I will quit now. Love to you all!  I gave up posting more pictures..Blogger decided to rebel. I will post more next time.

We put together and decorated gingerbread houses.
President Hill and his wife have the missionaries sing and play the "Hills Bells"  They really are pretty good at it!
You see who didn't participate very well. If you have ever heard me sing, you know why. Besides, I am on a picture taking mission, right?
Who wouldn't love these faces?  We have the best Elders ever!

Don't know why this picture ended up here, but I don't even try to understand the mysteries of blogger!
Clean up is Jim's expertise!
Mail room!  Those three on the orange couch were ours!
Christmas Eve Dinner with Elder Stanley.
Introducing Elder Stanley!
This was really about the best part of zone conference. Each missionary received at lest one, maybe multiple letters from home. They sat quietly and read these letters, many of them with unashamed tears rolling down their faces. I hesitated to disturb the spirit here, but my desire to always remember this time overcame.

We had wonderful Croatian food made by a chef whose wife is a member.

Yes, at over 7 feet tall, he does play basketball as does his brother who is 7'4" . He is from Canada , I want to say his name is Bachinski, but not sure of the spelling. Sis. Robinson?

Some of the Elders got very creative with their gingerbread houses?

All that gingerbread, frosting and all those beautiful much loved letters from home didn't just magically appear. Sister Robinson and Sister Hill are the worker bees that made it all happen. I bet they went to bed pretty tired that night!

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