One of the sad realities of living overseas is that you miss out on most family gatherings. The added reality that we are pastors of a church means that we have never spent Christmas with our blood families but rather have been with our church family. And while we miss family at Christmas we have come to treasure the other "families" that we have forged our way into! And we do delight in our church family and love to be with them and enjoy the wonderful Christmas days with them. Over the years we have developed some traditions that have become dear to us.
The first is with our Swiss-American family. This family has a mom who is Swiss, a dad who is American and three delightful grown up children who we love to be with. Laughter, joy, meaningful conversation and games are always a part of our gatherings. They also love Tanner so he often gets to come along! We have made it a tradition to spend Christmas Eve with them and this year did not disappoint. They live a bit outside of Stockholm and are surrounded by beauty. With the incessant snowfall that Stockholm has enjoyed this year, we stepped right into a winter wonderland as we arrived. There is a huge field in front of their house and Tanner loves to run and frolic in the wide open space. Their home is a lovely haven of beauty and comfort. We enjoyed wonderful appetizers of sausage and cheeses, a beautiful ham dinner and I contributed a decadent cheesecake with berries on top for desert. Cookies, candy, chocolates and other delights surrounded us throughout the evening. We played A Christmas Carol duel, drawing a word from a hat and in teams, needing to think of a Christmas song with that word and then singing the verse containing the word! We won't win any Grammy awards but it was great fun laughing our way through the songs of the season. We spent some time sharing our joys and challenges for the year ahead and all in all, it was a delightful Christmas Eve.
Christmas Day is devoted to our church family. We began a tradition of having an Open House on Christmas day evening as this is when one can begin to feel a bit lonely. The day after Christmas, Boxing Day or the Second Day of Christmas as it is known in Sweden, is also a holiday so people don't mind being out in the evening on Christmas. By doing an Open House, we can also ensure that anyone from church has a place to go on Christmas to get a good meal and enjoy some warm fellowship. A blizzard began on the Christmas morning and continued throughout the day thus cutting into our party total. We usually have between 80-100 people and this year is was a modest 50 folks. We enjoyed the company however and people talked and ate and enjoyed one another's company well into the evening. I brew up a hot apple cider that is our signature beverage and people love it, most having never tasted it before! I bake a zillion chocolate chip cookies and make homemade toffee in addition to the variety of dips and appetizers that adorn the table. Doug fixes up the house, and I'm in charge of the food and we love having this tradition as the centerpiece of Christmas Day.
Last but certainly not least is our Swedish-Ghanian family. We are also invited to Hannah's turkey feast each year. Hannah is famous for making what is likely the most delicious turkey in the world and we look forward to the mouth-watering feast that awaits us each year. Doug has become chief carver at the event and does an awesome job of ensuring that everyone gets a nice slice of the delicious bird. The food goes fast at this delightful family gathering. So while we long for family to join us in our traditions here in Sweden, we are not alone in our journey through the Christmas days. We are grateful for the other "families" that have become an essential part of our life here in Sweden.