Archive for holidays

The Essence of a Gift

To give gifts, or not to give gifts…….it’s a question we have both pondered at one point at Christmas time. Sometimes we feel that it takes away from the celebration of Jesus’ birth and we don’t like the focus on materialism. In America, we are supposed to tell Santa what WE want for Christmas….what’s up with that? I know, it’s because we tell the little children that he is the one who will bring presents. I really think it’s neat that here in Hungary the children don’t ask that question but have to sing and recite something for Mikulash (St. Nick). It’s the angels or baby Jesus who brings presents. Different ideas, but gift giving is a real part of celebrations no matter what the culture.

In our house Christmas gifts are kept to a minimum. Our children are allowed to choose one inexpensive toy from the store for their Christmas gift, and that’s the extent of their presents. We then let them choose what gift they wanted to give through Gospel for Asia. We really had a great time buying chickens and goats for families in South Asia, and each child felt as though they had a part in helping another family across the world. We enjoy delivering cookies and breads to our neighbors, and have been delighted at how the neighbors come knocking on our door with a small gift in return. The giving is one way to demonstrate our love in a tangible way.

Like it or not, gift giving is a part of every culture, at all times during the year. And once again, I have been reminded of the significance of gifts. This year I received a bar of homemade soap from a dear Hungarian friend. It was only soap, but it felt like gold because I know her heart. I felt honored – as though my friendship with her was of great worth. I didn’t know that I needed to be reminded that I was special to someone. As the Hungarians gave gifts to us, I realized that we have been accepted into their circle, and that is affirmation of God’s purposes in bringing us here.

The Wise Men’s gifts were an amazing gesture of honor to the Savior. They just could not come empty handed. They came with gifts that were more than just gifts. It was proof of their acknowledgment of the Savior, proof that certainly blessed the heart of Mary and Joseph. The biblical examples of giving are abundant….the widow giving her mite in the temple, the Philippian church giving to Paul, Christ, giving his life for us….and they are concrete evidences of LOVE.

Thank you to everyone who gave to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering. We live and work here in Hungary because of your gifts!
Thank you for the tangible way you express your love for Jesus. It’s not just a gift, it’s the message inside the gift.

Merry Christmas!

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Santa and the Baby Jesus

This will be our second Christmas in Hungary, and I am still learning about their holiday traditions. Having children makes this so much more fun. When we lived in America, I never told our kids that Santa brought presents, but we always had fun seeing him at the mall, and reading about the history of St. Nicholas. This week I took three of our kids to see Mikulash (St. Nicholas) at our local mall. Mikulash visited Elizabeth’s kindergarten class, so Olivia really wanted to meet him also. Elizabeth told us that when he came to her class, she had to recite a poem the class had been working on just for this occasion. At the mall, I was surprised to see there was not a long line to see him, and he was dressed in the traditional red garb and white hair, and surrounded by angels, not elves. The few children before us took a very long time sitting and talking with Santa, and I wondered what they were doing. When it was our turn he asked us lots of questions, and I think he enjoyed talking to some American kids. Another surprise – he did not ask the children what they wanted for Christmas. Now I knew that in Hungary it is not Santa who brings the children toys on December 25, but the baby Jesus. Santa fills their boots with candy on December 6. But to see this conversation played out really gave me a cultural shock! Instead of asking the children what they wanted him to bring them, he asked them what they could say or sing for him! I had not prepared the children to sing a Hungarian Christmas song or poem and fortunately he asked if we could sing Jingle Bells. So, we all stood around Mikulash and began singing Jingle Bells, in English. Then, after we performed for him, he gave out the special Hungarian Christmas candy and a sticker book to each child.

One new Hungarian tradition that we haven’t adopted is waiting until December 24 to put up our Christmas tree. We have found that it is such a great teaching tool for our family, and have used it to talk about it’s history – St. Boniface, Martin Luther, hanging fruit on the branches, and of course stars and angels. Tradition here says that angels and the baby Jesus deliver the tree and presents on Christmas Eve, and usually only the adults put the tree up in secret to surprise the children. We hope that JESUS will be exalted during this Christmas season and that many will realize that the baby Jesus is actually IMMANUEL – GOD WITH US. Not a baby anymore, not still on the cross, not still dead in the tomb, but a risen SAVIOR, living and interceding on our behalf to God our heavenly Father.

St. Nicholas – Mikulash

Hungary has Christmas traditions that are unique for us Americans. One of our favorite new traditions is December 6, Nicholas’ day. Here, everyone’s name is somewhere on the yearly calendar to celebrate a “name day.” This is a special day in addition to your birthday. Nicholas’s name is on December 6, therefore he is celebrated and remembered on this day, just as in many other countries he is also honored on this day. Here his name is Mikulash. Some families have grandpa dress up like St. Nick to visit their children, or you can “hire” someone to come to your house. I always see the signs with a phone number to call, but haven’t tried the personal Santa visit. He did show up at Elizabeth’s kindergarten class, and she insisted that he was the REAL one! (He had a real white beard and red clothes) Olivia wants to see him too, so we will try to track him down at the local mall.

The children put their clean boots outside on the window sill and go to bed in hopes of getting candy in the morning from Mikulash, rather than the “switch.” There is actually a golden stick you can buy in the stores for this very occasion. And just to be funny, I bought four golden sticks this year to put in their boots. It is such fun to see the kids’ faces when they find their boots in the morning!

As a family, we have enjoyed reading the true story about the real St. Nicholas, a man from Lycia and a bishop of Myra. Voice of the Martyrs has published a wonderful book that chronicles his life – his desire to share his riches with the poor, his desire to serve God, and his desire to preserve and preach the truth about Jesus Christ. He was imprisoned under the Roman ruler Diocletian for refusing to bow to him. He chose to worship God alone and stayed in prison.He endured years of imprisonment and persecution because of his faith, and was released when Diocletian died and Constantine came to power. Constantine was a Christian, and he released all the Christians who had been imprisoned. The story inspires us to pray for those who are being persecuted today around the world, and to live boldly for Christ. It’s good to remember Nicholas. The real story certainly points us to Jesus, and that is worth celebrating.

(The Story of St. Nicholas, More Than Reindeer and a Red Suit, by Cheryl Odden, published by Voice of the Martyrs)