December 30, 2011

Missions and Traditions

As always, it's seems that ideas for my articles don't come until the day they are due! At 3:30 this morning, while nursing my baby, I finally knew what I wanted to share about Christmas for my post.

Seventeen years ago, at the end of November, I flew to Hungary to preach the restored gospel to the Hungarians.  I could hardly understand anything, much less speak the language, so in a way, I was very childlike in my understanding of this new country, and its culture surrounding Christmas. My first experiences there, have a kind of magic quality in my memory. Here are a few things that were new to me:

  •  I learned about St. Nicholas Day. It takes place on December 6, and my sweet companion placed candy in my shoes for me to find that morning.
  •  I learned children's Christmas songs about the birth of our Savior. Pasztorok "Shepherds" was my favorite - the tune runs through my head as I type :-) 
  • I tasted szaloncukor, and couldn't get enough! It's a little decoratively wrapped candy that they hang on the tree there. If you carefully unwrap it, you can get the candy out, while making the wrapper look like it is still full.   
  • I was exposed to all sorts of new cuisine like halaszle (fish soup - the traditional meal on Christmas Eve) and yummy baked goods that they would eat for their holidays. I gained a ton of weight, enjoying it all! 
  • I experienced Christmas on Christmas Eve with a sweet little family, The Dobais, as they celebrated the Baba Jesuska (Little Baby Jesus) bringing the presents to celebrate His birth.  My heart still burns and tears come as I remember them lovingly giving the simplest of gifts to their daughter (a colorful pencil and a few other trinkets) bought with their hard-earned meager money. It's still unfathomable to me that they then gave my companion and me gifts as well!   My heart breaks with the commercialism that surrounds this holiday in our country now, especially as I remember the expression of joy and excitement on the little girl's face as she gratefully received her parent's humble offerings. They had laid out their finest food for us and dressed in their best clothes to celebrate this special event.  Dobai Laszlo, the father, had recently been baptized, and they showed us their gratitude with their sacrifice.  
  • I attended Christmas Eve services in beautiful cathedrals that were packed with people. I felt the Spirit as we sang hymns together that spoke of the Holy Birth. This is a link to the song "Pasztorok". It sounds a lot like when we sang it together in this cathedral.
There has not been a Christmas since my mission, where I have not been transported back to Hungary several times in my mind, during the holiday season.   I loved the season there.  Santa came and went in early December, and the birth of Christ was the focus for the remainder of the month.

As years have gone on, as a family, we've never really had a particular Christmas tradition other than Santa.  I finally decided to change that this year and we've adopted several elements from things that I enjoyed on my mission.

 I finally bought szaloncukor this year to share with the children.  I told them that each day they could sneak one candy off the tree, but if I caught them they would not be able to have any more.  The kids loved that they got to be "sneaky" and didn't get in trouble.  I would often hear one or two of them start giggling.  When asked what was funny, it was because they had been successful in getting their treat.  I never did catch one of them ! 

After reading this article about St. Nicholas Day (on our own Latter-Day Homeschooling blog - thanks Marcina!), I decided to discuss with the children how they would feel about asking Santa to come early, just like he did when I was in Hungary.  Santa has traditionally brought the largest gifts for our children, and it didn't take long for them to realize they wouldn't have to wait all month long to get what they desired! I still can't believe what change this brought to our family.  I explained to them that once Santa came, he wasn't coming again; it would be time to focus on giving like the Savior did.  Much to my surprise (and delight), after St. Nick delivered their one special gift, there was hardly a discussion about what they "wanted" for the rest of the month.  They were still excited for Christmas, but there were no more "gimmees"! 

We also followed the Hungarian tradition of having a nice meal on Christams Eve (my kids called it a "feast").  We prepared the meal together, and as we sat down, I mentioned something about how everything good in my life had come from the decision to go on a mission.  My nine-year old son, looked at me thoughtfully and said, "Could you tell a little more about that, please?" We blessed the food, and then I was able to share what wonderful changes have happened in my life because of the opportunity to preach the gospel and truly accept Christ in my life. We then opened gifts afterward, starting with the gifts that they had given to each other. Now I can't wait until next year to do all of this over again...we finally have our family's tradition in how we celebrate Christ's birth.

Jenny is the nutty mother of 6 kids, and is married to a psychologist (it's great to have psych help on site). Her varied ramblings are found at We don't call people poopyheads. Her interests are basically anything that makes her abnormal, such as homebirthing, homeschooling, herbalism and natural healing, holistic iridology, being a certified Emotion Code practitioner, and a survivalist wanna-be, to name a few.

3 comments - Add a comment below -:

Dana ♥ said...

Jenny I love this post! What a great way to have enjoy Santa and be able to focus on Christ. Thanks for sharing about the Szaloncukor. I've never heard of it, but it sounds like great fun!

MissMOE said...

Wonderful post. It is humbling to hear how precious a true Christmas is for the people of Hungary.

Mama Rachel said...

This is so beautiful! What a wonderful way to incorporate the traditions from your "second" country into your Christmas celebrations for your family. And I loved hearing about how it helped bring the true spirit of Christmas into your home! :)