I thought that I would share with you what our American Christmas celebration was like. It started off waking up Christmas Eve to the winter snow storm. We felt very blessed to be able to ride down to Yerevan in the mission transfer van due to the road conditions. The driver arrived from Yerevan to pick us up and two sets of elders at 9:30 a.m. The snow storm was just in Gyumri so it was a fun ride down visiting with the elders. All the missionaries in Armenia were together for the Christmas celebration which was about 60 people. When President Carter welcomed us all there, he mentioned two things to start off the celebration. The first was to comfort us all a little about being away from family at this special time of year. He reminded us that we will only have one or two Christmas in Armenia in our whole lives depending on how long our missions were. It will be a memory we will never forget, make the most of it and to treasure it. The second was to remind us that without Christ, we would not have been able to all be together that day enjoying each other's company. None of us would be on missions. He then listed a list of things that our lives would be like without the Savior that really made you think about what our lives would be like without him.
To help us celebrate his birth, we sang some Christmas songs as we waited for the food to arrive. After singing as a group for a while, we finally broke up into smaller groups. We have some very talented singers here. And we waited for the food to arrive as we sang. Finally, President Carter decided we would play the white elephant game while we waited for the food to arrive. It was so much fun to see all the trades, surprises, zonks and laughing. One of the highlights was the creative wrapping as I have not seem any wrapping paper since I got here. Bags with balloons for bows are used a lot along with newspaper and plastic grocery bags. I cannot do my paper sack trick here as there are no paper sacks. Half way through the game, they said the food was on its way. President Carter told us that it was probably Armenia time and we had time to finish the game. We did finish the game and have time to look over our treasures for about a half hour. I was able to get Chad a girlfriend to keep him company because we are gone so much. She is a little doll with pockets to put things in. I named her LucyNay which is a popular name here.
The food really did come and was worth waiting for. It was chicken and pork barbeque on skewers. There were potatoes and carrots under the meat where the drippings had helped cook them that were wonderful. There was large pots of rice and sauce to go with the meat also. There is always bread and lavish (tortillas) and fruit. There was a cabbage and apple salad that was also good. They usually serve juice to drink or punch but we did have some soda also. The desserts were American with brownies, apple crisp, cookies and lemon pie brought by the senior missionaries to give everyone a taste of home. It was all really good.
After dinner was the talent show, which was delightful. It started off with 8 elders doing a skit about the life of a missionary. It was all sung to the music of Star Wars. It reminded me of that Christmas musical you all love on Scrubs. It had in getting up early, companion differences, food differences and cooking, tracting, a girl friend back home and a dear John letter. In the end, he gets off the plane, the girl asks for his forgiveness and her boyfriend is now tracting on his mission. Really well done and fun.
The talent show lasted for about two hours. We laughed and laughed. Two elders had been companions and discovered that they both loved to make up voices. They entertained us for about 20 minutes with all the difference ones. There were two elders that had learned to throw M&M's like baseballs at each other and catch them in their mouths. They had all kinds of different pitches. They even challenged two of our elders to a contest. Surprisingly, since these other elders were really, really good, our elders won. Two sisters put on a Southern Cooking skit that had a women's lib theme that had us all laughing so hard. My sweetheart won the male seniors contest of putting a cookie on your forehead and getting it into your mouth without touching it. There was a toothpick and pass the Lifesaver contest that was so funny. The talents included magic tricks and musical singing with hula dancing by the elders. But at the end of all the laughing and fun were two incredible musical singing numbers about Christmas. It set the mood for Sister Carter's talk about how special they all are and the Christmas gifts she had for each of us. We all helped clean up. It is surprising how fast you can clean up if 60 people are helping.
We headed back in the transfer van in bright, happy moods full of Christmas spirit. On the way home, the elders talked about some of their Christmas memories of their childhood. We shared many of our as children and as parents. We all decided at the end of the conversation that the memories and traditions are better than the presents. We drove home in a snow storm most of the way. It was so bad that the driver brought his father, who is also a driver, just in case he needed help. We were so grateful to them for making it possible for us to be at the Christmas party. They still had another 2 hours ride home after they dropped us off at 9:30 p.m. It was a really exciting thought for all of us to know that we would be sharing Christmas with our families on Skype the next morning as we parted that night as missionaries.
The elders arrived at 7:00 the next morning to Skype one of the families on Christmas Eve. With the time difference, they set it up for two of them to Skype in the morning and two in the evening. Elder Morris was so disappointed since his family wasn't home. The elders had study time while we prepared French toast with Armenia round bread for them. They loved it as it was a taste of home. Elder Poulsen tried at 8:00 and was able to get through. It was so fun to hear all the excitement as they first saw each other on Skype. It reminded me of how excited we all were to talk to Ken just on the phone last year. Elder Morris tried at 9:00 and was able to get through to his family. Both of these elders were 10 inches off the ground as we headed for church. In Relief Society, they practiced for the Christmas program on the 27th the whole time. Most people live so far from the church that they had to do it then.
After church, we fed the elders a choice of chili or chicken noodle soup with bread and salad. We put out lots of goodies to munch on as they played Zarahemla. It reminded me of our family Christmas day of the kids playing with their presents. Zarahemla was a present an elder had gotten. We got to watch Lindsey and Dan's family and Cathy and Ed's family open their presents while the elder's played their game. Their families will never know how much it meant to us to be able to share that with them. At 7:15 p.m., Elder Olsen called as we again heard screams of delight. We fed them again while he talked and then they had my sweetheart play the game to fill in while the elder talked. At 8:15, Elder Wahl was greeted with screams of delight. At 9:15, sadness filled the air as Elder Wahl said goodbye. All the elders commented on how much their families meant to them and that they hadn't realized it until they had gone on their missions. We aged 100%! The elders have to be home by 9:30 so they had to quickly catch a cab. If we couldn't be home with our family, this was the next best thing. As President Carter, we will only have two Christmas Days in our whole lives, so we need to treasure the memories. To my delight, I was able to talk to Elizabeth, James, Ken, Jenny, Susan, Jason and Sarah the next morning Armenian time. My sweetheart and I agree that this will be a Christmas we will never forget in so many different ways.