The Russian New Year is family time, more like our Christmas. On New Year's Eve, family gathers and often close friends are included. It isn't a shopping day - hardy any stores of any kind are open for either New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. The celebration includes decorating a tree, if that hasn't been done before. They have an unhurried evening meal with a wide variety of favorite and traditional dishes. The New Year is welcomed in with cheers and songs
. Then, they all try to stay up all night playing games, watching movies and talking. Even the little children stay up as long as they can. Gifts are opened after midnight. Then, New Years Day itself, no surprise, is spent sleeping and relaxing. Food that can stay out, is left on the table so if the children, or anyone else, wake up early, they have food without someone having to fix it.
Finally,plenty of fireworks at most major parks. Last year they continued off and on until almost 4:00 a.m. This year only until about 1:00. The people here said it was because of the economy. The ruble was at 30 when we got here, now it is staying in the high 60's, not good for the Russians.
We were invited to dinner at Sergei and Anaits. [We have pictures in a previous blog from when we were over there to order the Matroshka Dolls.] They are of Armenian descent, where their families still live, but they are Russia citizens. She is known not only for the Matroshka, but for her great cooking. They had invited a couple of other members, the daughter is one of our Institute youth. The mom is just as fun and pleasant as she looks - also is a very strong member. She has always gone out of her way to give me a hug when we are in their branch or at activities. Interesting what a bond there can be even with no verbal communication..
The fruit here is amazing as is their fruit juices. We've never tasted better pears.
They are both lively and fun - devoted, active members since 2002 who give their all in serving. He has served as a branch president a couple of times and she in several auxiliaries. We met them early in our mission and will be friends we stay in touch with.
We checked off one item on our bucket list, well maybe my bucket list, but Mike enjoyed it much more than he thought he would - Seeing Nutcracker, and the plus to that was seeing in Russia performed by one of their professional groups. The music is great and familiar, especially the second act. Our first grade teacher, LaVerne Crandall, loved classical music and even in small Snowflake, Arizona, thought it was important that we learn to recognize and enjoy it. She would go into every classroom (only eight - one for each grade) every week and have us listen to different pieces and we had to learn the composer and name and be able to identify them when we heard them .. that part is gone from my memory, but I do remember and love the music we learned from her.
The theater is about two hundred years old, so it is very ornate - it is old, but they take very good care of it. There are nice paintings at the corners, you can see part of one just below.
This is the center chandelier
Our view of the stage and the box seats on the side
You can see that the chairs are old style, but in good repair. They don't replace carpeting and chair upholstery often, but they keep everything clean and nice, which is maybe even better than if everything was new.
You can see the four tiers of seats, pretty impressive. Through the end of December and first part of January, they had a lot of performances of Nutcracker - and to a sold out crowd always.
A couple of pictures from the internet - one of the front and one of the inside when it was newer, a gold curtain instead of the red they have now, but it will give you a better idea of the building.
Outside of the building
Detail at the top - again it always looks older when you see it in person ... now there's a thought, I wonder if we'll look older when you see us in person.
They had a pre-show for the kids that was really fun - great Russian children's music. It was a new twist on our gingerbread man - their Kolobok - that gets away from the babushka and daedushka (grandmother and grandfather) that the animals try to eat. But they changed it so Kolobok doesn't get eaten and they all become friends and lead the children in cheering to show they believe in Father Frost, so he will come. Below is Kolobok (Russian pie/bread), Snow Maiden, rabbit, fox and bear, all with exceptional voices. The music is lively and the dances they do are fun to watch.
They also have a huge New Year's tree. We also have "trees" from the pre-show standing with us. Here is a link Lina sent me with a Russian animated take-off that combines Cinderella and Nutcracker. If you have time to watch it, you will enjoy it. It is just music and the pictures so you don't have to know Russian.
Maxim and Lina went with us .. they still come on Saturday's when they can for the English Discussion Group - also both have finished their first class in Pathway for BYUI.
We walked home after -- winter is here -- it is cold, but it is beautiful.
The last block - long block - before home.
It is a busy time, and we are grateful for that. Our mission is one of a few missions that is piloting a new program for the Europe East missions where the missionaries get in touch with inactive and less active members and make appointments to reteach the regular missionary lessons hoping that will bring back the enthusiasm of their new member years. The problem is that some of them don't want to meet, but the missionaries feel if they just keep with it, they will have results. Apparently it has worked well in other countries.
We continue to meet with Institute, Single Adults and Mid-Single Adults. The CES director asked Mike to teach the lesson for Institute last week, with the help of missionary translators, which he enjoyed. We help on lessons with the missionaries, sometimes they bring them to the apartment, sometimes we meet down at the office. We try to have people over to dinner every couple of weeks and occasionally are invited; sometimes the missionaries bring a family up for a spiritual thought from them and treats from us, or they take us with them to a FHE appointment.
We still attend the Sunday block in two branches - now wards and Mike does his clerk work during the SS and Priesthood time of the first. On Fridays we have two different missionary districts meet in our apartment for their District Meetings, 1:00 and 3:30. It was my turn to do the training for one of the district meetings last Friday. It must have really been exciting and interesting since Elder Waite napped off through most of it - which is justly deserved payback for the home evening lessons at home where I've done the same. Weekly shopping is a 2 1/2 to 3 hour adventure with our babushka cart and bags. And it is all good - we are safe and happy.
We have thought a lot this week of how many things we have to be thankful for and want you to know how very grateful we are for all of you and the influence you have had on our lives and the lives of our children. You are the "charming gardeners who make our souls blossom!"
We'll close with these thoughts on gratitude from President Uchtdorf, April 2014.
"Everyone’s situation is different, and the details of each life are unique. Nevertheless, I have learned that there is something that would take away the bitterness that may come into our lives. There is one thing we can do to make life sweeter, more joyful, even glorious.
We can be grateful!
It might sound contrary to the wisdom of the world to suggest that one who is burdened with sorrow should give thanks to God. But those who set aside the bottle of bitterness and lift instead the goblet of gratitude can find a purifying drink of healing, peace, and understanding. As disciples of Christ, we are commanded to “thank the Lord [our] God in all things,” to “sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving,” and to “let [our] heart be full of thanks unto God.”
Why does God command us to be grateful?
All of His commandments are given to make blessings available to us. Commandments are opportunities to exercise our agency and to receive blessings. Our loving Heavenly Father knows that choosing to develop a spirit of gratitude will bring us true joy and great happiness.
How blessed we are if we recognize God’s handiwork in the marvelous tapestry of life. Gratitude to our Father in Heaven broadens our perception and clears our vision. It inspires humility and fosters empathy toward our fellowmen and all of God’s creation. Gratitude is a catalyst to all Christlike attributes! A thankful heart is the parent of all virtues.
The Lord has given us His promise that those “who [receive] all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto [them], even an hundred fold, yea, more.”
"Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings,
turn routine jobs into joy
and change ordinary opportunities into blessings."