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this year i spent my first christmas away from my immediate family and it felt so bizarre. since i wasn’t with them, it’s like christmas never really happened. now, i know that christmas has come and gone — i’ve opened presents and eaten holiday food and wished folks a merry christmas many times, but it all felt like a movie that i was in.

a few days before christmas i came down with a sinus infection (which was hella annoying)  and also simultaneously agreed to cat-sit for nine days for my landlord (even though i don’t like cats, which you can read more about here). my amazing boss brought me supplies from the pharmacy and i got plenty of rest in the days leading up to the holidays so that by the time the christmas eve church service came around, i wasn’t feeling quite as dreadful.

i spend the 24th relaxing in bed binge-watching the west wing on netflix and texting my family back in the states. by the time 11pm rolled around i was ready to take the tram across the city to the late-night candlelit service. there was a bit of fog in the air and the streets were almost deserted; the tram i rode was in stark contrast to the holy stillness that surrounded me in the rest of the city. i sniffled my way to the church, found my friends, and sat down for the service.

now, i should mention that at st. columba’s there are no pews — instead there are old, uncomfortable, sometimes squeaky, but beautifully hand-made, individual chairs. as such, once everyone was seated for the service, there was no space to set things beside you as there would be in pews; instead, everything had to be put under the chair or held on your lap. as a sick person who was trying to juggle a cup of water, my hymnbook, the program, and a lit tea-light (because it was a candlelight service, remember), let me just say that the struggle was real — especially when half-way through the service my nose starting running and then i had a sneezing fit.. way to go me!

anyhow, the service was absolutely beautiful and i got home around 1:30am, just in time to get some rest before waking up at 8am to then skype with my family back in the states (at 2am their time!) to open our christmas presents together. yes, my family is seriously the greatest! they all crowded together on the couch and i curled up in my bed, over 7,000 miles away, and we took turns opening gifts and ooh-ing and ahh-ing over what we all got. it was seriously the perfect way to start my christmas day!

after opening gifts and putting on make-up, i headed back to st. columba’s for the 11am morning worship and the fabulous community lunch that followed it. though i couldn’t stay for the whole lunch, getting to spend even a bit of time with my international community of faith was such a wondrous experience. people from all walks of life came together on christmas day to celebrate in joy and togetherness, and seeing that first-hand was honestly so magical to behold. i feel so privileged to be a part of this beautiful and authentic community that gathers together each week.


a lovely photo from lunch that my friend merab posted to snapchat

part way through lunch my fantastic boss and his amazing wife arrived to whisk me away to the next event: a hungarian family christmas celebration at my bosses parent’s home on the buda side of the city, near the danube and just across the river from parliament (a gorgeous area to be in). my whole experience there honestly felt like a movie and i felt the need to film the entire thing, but thought that might be rude haha. but the desire was there! a few times there were these moments where i would just stand still and look all around me in a circle, taking in all of the sweet and tender moments this family was having and that i was lucky enough to be witness to.

upon my arrival i was taken into the parlor room where the tree and presents were all set up. there were only a handful of people there, so my boss made introductions and his wonderful father poured everyone drinks. we sat on ornate and cozy furniture drinking our wine (i’ve learned that hungarians never say no to more wine, it’s like a sin here, you always take more!) and talking about the holiday season. it seemed like a parlor scene out of a movie — i was hanging out in a fancy room with distinguished and accomplished hungarians, listening to them tell stories about their lives, soaking it all up. as more people began to arrive the parlor filled with guests and i was introduced to even more folks. thankfully a decent amount of the people in attendance spoke english, so it wasn’t like i was totally alone with nobody to talk to. though, in a room where everyone’s native tongue is hungarian, the only time people spoke english was when they were talking to me, naturally, so many of the side conversations went right past me — something that i’m slowly becoming accustomed to here in budapest.

there were fifteen of us or so in total who arrived and dined together on a whole host of traditional hungarian treats, many of which i did not like haha. i warned my boss before agreeing to attend that i probably wouldn’t eat much, and he should warn his wonderful hungarian mother (who was in charge of the meal) not to be offended. he’s used to my eating habits by now, by which i mean that i’ll eat just about anything except for hungarian food haha it’s really just not my thing. however, i tried everything that was served (because who doesn’t love a food adventure, eh?) and actually ended up pleasantly full by the end of it all. there was beef and vegetable soup, bread, stuffed cabbage, turkey, fish, rice, root veggies, and a whole host of traditional desserts. each time i tried something that i didn’t like the others at the table chuckled quietly and exchanged knowing looks with each other.

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the remnants of our hungarian holiday meal

after the meal was served it was time to head back into the parlor to light the tree up (not with lights, but with sparklers that were wrapped around strategic branches all over the live tree — and yes, one of them did catch an ornament on fire, but it was still gorgeous!) and do the holiday readings. hungarian holiday songs were sang, instruments were played, the story of the three wise men was read and acted out in hungarian, and gifts were distributed to all (including myself! a huge thanks to my boss and his wonderful family for thinking of me during the holiday shopping!).

after the presents were opened, everyone lounged and visited with one another, and just as people began to trickle out and i thought things were winding down — a dozen new people filed in and the introductions began anew! more readings were then done and more presents were opened, and the whole holiday celebration began again (with the exception of the meal)! i ended up staying and visiting for around seven hours, and by the time i arrived back home i was exhausted from the day, but also relishing in the love that surrounded me through it all.

it was hard being away from my family for the holidays, but knowing that i have such an amazing support system here is truly a blessing. having so many people around who love and care for me has been a phenomenal experience, and one that i won’t soon forget.