It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Many people start listening to Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. I think it is the common standard here in America. But I am not one of those people.

This year I started in the beginning of October. People tell me that that is a major improvement over 2011 when I did “Christmas in July” and never stopped. I think next year I am going to celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas by doing something Christmas-y on the 25th of every month.

In all seriousness, what isn’t there to like about Christmas? After the obnoxiousness known as “black Friday” (which really is a black mark on American culture…) everyone is happier. Everyone is more giving. Everyone cares more about their family. Everyone reminisces about their childhood and family traditions. Everyone drinks eggnog, listens to Christmas music, drives around trying to find the greatest display of lights and anxiously awaits for the knock of carolers at the door and for the next movie to start on Hallmark or ABC Family.

I personally love everything about it. I love hearing how people in different countries celebrate the Savior’s birth. I love talking to my friends who also just got home from all over the world on missions and the new-found traditions brought from other cultures.

Maybe it is because both of my parents’ birthdays are on Christmas. My mom was born on December 25th and my dad was born on January 7th, the day it is celebrated in traditionally eastern orthodox countries (like Ukraine!). Maybe it is because you get to go sit on Santa’s lap and ask for anything you want. Maybe it is because you just got over finals and you don’t have to worry about anything for another week or two. Whatever it is, it’s awesome.

Christmas and Easter are sibling holidays. Without the one, the other is meaningless. Without the birth of Jesus Christ on that first Christmas, there would be no Atonement. Without the Atonement, it would be just another child born in a small village outside of Jerusalem.

“The real Christmas comes to him who has taken Christ into his life as a moving, dynamic, vitalizing force. The real spirit of Christmas lies in the life and mission of the Master….

“If you desire to find the true spirit of Christmas and partake of the sweetness of it, let me make this suggestion to you. During the hurry of the festive occasion of this Christmas season, find time to turn your heart to God. Perhaps in the quiet hours, and in a quiet place, and on your knees—alone or with loved ones—give thanks for the good things that have come to you, and ask that His Spirit might dwell in you as you earnestly strive to serve Him and keep His commandments” (Howard W. Hunter, “The Real Christmas,” Ensign, Dec 2005, 22–25).

In Sunday school this week, the lesson was about the Atonement. Today in my New Testament class (take it from Skinner if you get the chance) we talked about the Last Supper and Gethsemane. It really has been on my mind since I went to see the temple square lights on Saturday. I am not one for being completely “solemn” or “serious” all of the time. I’m sure you’ve noticed that if you’ve ever talked to me for more than five seconds. I’ve often told people that if Heavenly Father doesn’t have a good sense of humor, then maybe the Celestial Kingdom isn’t all that it is cracked up to be.

But all of the traditions and singing and food are a great way to celebrate the second most important event in the history of the world. It really is second only to what He did 33 years later. They bring us together, they cheer us up, they remind us that life is not only meant to be endured, but enjoyed. But when the time comes and the moment is right, let us all try to have a moment of personal re-dedication to serving the Lord. The “magic” doesn’t need to stop after you open your adult-sized footie pajamas that your grandma sent you or after you eat the last slice of ham, or even after watching “A Christmas Story” 7 times during the annual 24 hour marathon. When the spirit of Christmas permeates the world in the season of giving, why does it need to go away?

We can keep giving, serving, helping, laughing, singing more often than in the shower, and caring than 1 month a year. Hot chocolate can be replaced with ice cold lemonade and Santa hats with a baseball hat and some sunglasses. The parts that REALLY make Christmas are the things we can do everyday.

So this holiday season, whatever you are celebrating, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa,  College Football Bowl Season, or anything else, try to keep the momentum going into 2013 and make a difference in the world one act of service at a time. And if you need to listen to Mannheim Steamroller to get you in the mood, then all the better.



Thoughts and Rants


I love Russian.

The Brothers Karamazov

I found these two quotes last night while I was trying to think up a name for this ordeal. Both are from Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky:

“Be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.”


“For men are made for happiness, and anyone who is completely happy has a right to say to himself, ‘I am doing God’s will on earth.”


I played on the first one for the name of the blog and the second one is just about the truest words to ever be written. And both of these are written by a Russian author which brings it back to the point of my post:

I love Russian.

Russian is a beautiful language. It is so much more rich than English. I learned it while serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for two years (7/10-7/12) in central and southern Ukraine. I lived in the cities of Nikolaev, Dnepropetrovsk, Yevpatoria and Poltava. I absolutely loved it. It is hard to put into words exactly everything that happened and how it affected me, but if you knew me before and you see me now, you may be shocked. While I was in Ukraine, I learned Russian and for my last three months when I was in Poltava I heard a bit of Ukrainian and have since been studying here and there to get better at it.

It is interesting how much a language affects the culture,  once you get through a language barrier, you can really get inside of a culture and begin to understand the people, where they came from and why they think and feel the way they do. It is really remarkable. It definitely changed my personality to an extent. The language is very direct, and succinct. It’s very sharp and to the point. When I first got to Ukraine, I was at a family’s apartment (I had been in country for four days) and I remember asking my companion, Elder Berndt, why the kid was yelling at his mom because that is how it came off to me. I couldn’t understand what he was saying (I only had 11 weeks of studying before they sent me out.) and I thought the kid was a punk. My companion was completely confused and couldn’t for the life of him figure out what I was talking about. For him, it sounded completely normal: he had been there for a year and spoke the language well. Then it dawned on him and said “don’t worry, it’ll sound normal soon”. As time went on, I saw how I became much more direct in how I spoke, without any fluff. Much more of an “it is what it is, take it or leave it” mentality that is central to Ukrainian and Russian culture. Living there definitely made me more confident in what I had to say and not afraid to say it. I live with another one of my companions and we still make punny jokes and laugh about things in Russian because learning another language doubled the opportunity to make witty one-liners. It opened me up to an entirely different sense of humor that at the start of my time in Ukraine didn’t make any sense to me but now (when I understand the pop culture references at least) I find hysterically funny.

And then there is the added benefit of being those people who speak in a different language in public so no one understands them. By the way, it is much more convenient to be able to speak Russian than Spanish, considering half of Provo went on a Spanish speaking mission. You can’t get away with it.

But my Russian didn’t stop there. I am currently taking a class on the history of Russian culture and it is amazing. I’m convinced that Raisa Solovyova teaches history better than anyone on the planet. Maybe it is a combination of the fact that she grew up in Russia and then emigrated to the US after the fall of the Soviet Union and saw it all so it is so personal to her coupled with how involved with the culture I became while I was there. Whatever it is, I think it is the best class I have ever taken. I am also double majoring in Russian and Information Systems and am planning on spending next summer in Moscow doing an internship there.

Really, learning Russian has set the game plan for the rest of my career. It is a huge blessing that I never expected and had never crossed my mind until I opened a white envelope on March 11, 2010 telling me that I would be spending two years teaching people about Jesus Christ and would be do it in Russian. The quotes from the book (and many other Russian writers) only reinforced my feelings that Heavenly Father took care of the Slavic people during the centuries of repression and lack of religious freedom and gospel truths are still rooted deep in the culture and the church is beginning to uncover them.

Dnepropetrovsk, where I lived for 10 months.

I could go on about the food…but that deserves a whole other post all to itself.


Thoughts and Rants