to all my family and friends and readers of this blog. Many thanks for your support and your interest.
Last summer, while visiting Istanbul, I was very much impressed with the mosaics on walls and ceilings of Hagia Sophia, thinking at the time that I surely had seen pictures of some of these mosaics on beautiful Christmas cards over the years, and deciding then that I would share these images, together with my wishes for glad tidings to all this holiday season. Now, as always, the message of Peace on Earth has important significance, and as a Peace Corps Volunteer, it is the goal and objective of my service.
The holiday season for Peace Corps Volunteers is of course a time of mixed emotions, missing home and family, and yet also a time for bonding with other Peace Corps Volunteers, especially important for those serving in countries (like Azerbaijan) where holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are not celebrated. Of course it is memorable and inspiring to partake in the local holidays with host country nationals, new friends who share with us interesting and fun celebrations. But we do also appreciate the chance to share with each other our typical American holidays. So for us Peace Corps Volunteers in Azerbaijan, this holiday season began with a gathering for all of us to celebrate a Thanksgiving dinner, complete with seven turkeys, stuffing, gravy, and so many side dishes...it was fantastic!
An awesome group of Azerbaijan Peace Corps Volunteers pose at the Thanksgiving gathering, loosely positioning themselves on the steps relative to the location of the towns or villages throughout the country where they serve--a human map of
|Enjoying Thanksgiving Dinner was great!|
|Watching the "talent" show was hilariously entertaining and enjoyed by all.|
Some of the fun-loving talent show entertainers...
After returning back to our relative sites of service--our towns and villages, it was time to think of how we might celebrate Christmas. In my town, we decided to celebrate early, since I (and some of my sitemates) will be out of the country around the holidays. So we gathered at my Peace Corps Palace for a spectacular Christmas home-made pizza party and white elephant gift exchange...couldn't have been more fun!
And then came the white elephant gift exchange, which some proudly display:
|Flag-bearing Shakhta Baba|
|A dagger for all seasons...|
|A very useful tool|
|Having to give up the huge jar of peanut butter in white elephant trade|
|The winner of the creamy peanut butter, gloating...|
Peace Corps creative Christmas Tree, complete with flashing lights (looks better in person)
Last year I was privileged to spend Christmas Eve services and Christmas party at the Baku German Lutheran Church. But this year I will be in Germany proper. Having lived, attended school and worked in Germany, I have wonderful life-long friends whom I will be visiting, dear family friends in Duisburg (Muelheim) and Cologne, as well as my god-son in Duesseldorf.
Christmas in Germany is especially delightful, with its colorful Christkindlmaerkte (Christmas Markets), Nativity displays, Christmas trees (O, Tannenbaum), and specialty treats. And this Christmas I plan to attend Christmas services at the Cologne Cathedral, the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe, and one of the most striking and impressive. It has special Christmas significance, too, since the relics of the Three Wise Men are enshrined at the altar of the Cologne Cathedral. Some traditions indicate that these Wise Men--Kings of the Orient--(or at least one of them) came from the Land of Fire, from the place where the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism was practiced, a religion whose wise men (magi) studied and noted the position of the stars, perhaps even the Star of Bethlehem . This Land of Fire is today known as Azerbaijan! So it seems all too fitting and special that I will travel from Azerbaijan to visit Cologne and worship this holiday season at the Cathedral of the three Holy Kings.
Koelner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) with Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) in foreground