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Archive for the tag “Christmas”

Christmas in Azerbaijan

ImageI have to say that the Christmas we spent in Azerbaijan is one of my most memorable Christmases.  I’m sure that’s because most of my Christmases are more of the same, and this one was wildly different.  But I think there’s something more than just that.  Jesse and I had been married only two years, and the whole Peace Corps experience was great for helping us figure out how to navigate the world as a twosome (instead of solo, or with the direct help of our families… we were pretty much just us).


Here’s how our holiday season went down.  Since Azerbaijan is a former Soviet Republic, they have a pretty big Russian influence.  Azerbaijan is a Muslim country, but in December, a bunch of ‘Christmas’ decorations, and Santas started showing up.  To Azeris, these were New Year’s decorations, and Santa was Shaxta Baba and Qar Qiz.  Shaxta Baba means grandfather frost and Qar Qiz is snow girl.  Because of this leftover holiday influence, we were able to buy a metallic tree at the bazaar, and my sister, Jen, sent us some ornaments.  These are still some of my favorite ornaments.

ImageOn Christmas Eve, we went to the capital to meet up with some other volunteer friends.  If you haven’t been in the Peace Corps, you might not understand how the other volunteers truly do become family.  It is the sort of shared experience that brings people together quickly and (I think) permanently.

We ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant with a Filipino band singing classic rock hits in Santa costumes.  A far cry from our typical Christmas Eve feast.

After dinner, we wandered all around Baku singing Christmas carols at the top of our lungs.  Normally, we would try to blend in and not call attention to ourselves.  This night, we needed to assert our otherness.  I didn’t feel at home, so I didn’t want to act like I felt at home.

ImageWe found an English language church service (although the priest pronounced manger as mang-er, rhymes with banger) and we took up a whole pew.  It was then that I felt my first real pang of homesickness.  I remember a family with two young children sat in front of us.

The next morning was Christmas.  Since we were poor volunteers, we packed seven of us in our hotel room with one full size bed.  When everyone woke up I had put Pop Keks and mandarins in everyone’s shoes.

We weren’t at home, with our families.  But we sort of were.



“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

It’s that time of year.  In fact it’s been that time of year for a couple months around here.  The time of year when pretty much the only music I have playing is Christmas music.  I have my iTunes all set up so my favorites are at the top of the list.  This list is basically the same every year, but it tends to be a bit fluid in the order of songs. 

The song that is always on the top is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  Always and forever. 

This song became a favorite the year I spent Christmas in Azerbaijan during Peace Corps.  The line “through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow” hit home, since I wasn’t at home. I plan on writing more about my Azerbaijani Christmas next week, so check back for more about this.

Not only do I have that on the top of my list, but I also have an ordered list of my favorite versions of the song.  Here they are (please note that I am embedding videos here and that they might not show up on all viewers):

1.  Bright Eyes

I love the almost melancholy take that Bright Eyes has on the song.  “Let your heart be light, from now on our troubles will be out of sight.”  They way they sing this line just gets me.  It’s a mixture of hope and sadness.  Good stuff.


2.  John Denver and the Muppets, or more specifically, John Denver and Rowlf.

John: “Faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us once more.”Rowlf: “That’s nice…”

It really is nice, Rowlf.  It really is.


3.  Judy Garland

The original.  “Next year all our troubles will be miles away.”  So beautiful.  So unique. 


Then there are all the other greats.  James Taylor, John Denver (without Rowlf), Frank, She & Him.  Oh man.  So good.

Christmas Traditions (for the future)

Making Christmas More About Giving than Getting -

I have been thinking a lot this year about how to make traditions for my daughters.  I know that it is very important that they grow up with special traditions – especially at Christmas time.  We already have some fun traditions, like going and cutting down our Christmas tree, doing Advent calendars, eating dinner by the light of the Advent wreath, going to the Festival of Trees, looking at Christmas lights… there are so many ways to build traditions.


One thing I want to do is create traditions that are focused on giving to others.  Most of these won’t work until they are older, so I thought it would be good to put them in writing so I won’t forget about them!

Here are a few things we’re going to do:

1. Christmas Stockings:  I want this to be more concretely connected to Saint Nicholas.  Instead of filling my daughters’ stockings with little toys and candy, I will fill it with gifts for others.  Some ideas I have are putting in a roll of quarters – they can keep half, and give away the other half.  They can leave them on a playground and watch as other kids find the small treasures, they can leave them in the offering plate at church, give them to homeless people, whatever they want as long as they are giving them away.  Another idea is to put a gift for their sister in their stocking that they will give when they notice their sister doing something nice or generous.  The other idea I have is to buy a small ($10 or so) gift card to our grocery store that they can give to another shopper on our next shopping trip.  I’m sure I’ll get more ideas over the years, but that’s a start.

2.  I want to do something for the homeless on the day of the Feast of Stephen.  What better way to unwind from the craziness of Christmas than by helping out those who are less fortunate the following day?  I’m sure this will change as the kids get older, but it will always revolve around helping homeless people.

3.  We are going to do the Something you want, Something you need, Something you wear, & Something you read gift giving idea.  I love this to stave off some of the hyper-commercialism around Christmas.

4. Kindness Elves.  The idea of Elf on the Shelf never really felt right to me.  I don’t like the idea of having an elf come into our home and be a bad example for my kids.  This idea of kindness elves feels right to me.  They come and give ideas of how to be nice and helpful.  They compliment my kids on being nice and helpful!  What a lovely idea for Christmas time!

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