I celebrated Christmas for the first time in my life when I was 24. I remember how I went to the nocturnal liturgy at Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Minsk with my friends from an Orthodox youth fellowship. The famous choir of Irina Denisova sang in that cathedral in those times. Currently, that choir is known as the Festive Choir of St. Elisabeth Convent conducted by Nun Juliania (Denisova). I remember the unforgettable impression that I had after hearing the Cherubic Hymn in znamenny chant. I had, in fact, heard the recording of the same cherubic hymn on an album of theirs. Needless to say, no recording could accurately convey the singers’ live voices. I couldn’t take communion at that time because I wasn’t baptized yet. Perhaps, this service was one of the most significant events in my life, which led me to be baptized six months later.
The service was over but the night wasn’t. We had some tea with delicious food which we had brought to the church in advance. Aside from that, we sang Christmas carols and other Christian songs, and had a conversation about God and faith. Most essentially, we could feel that we were one family and that God was with us. It was that unforgettable Christmas night that determined my life for many years to come.
The most fantastic and unparalleled Christmas memory of mine is a metal Christmas tree-shaped candle holder, which my uncle, who was a long-haul driver, brought from East Germany. When the top of the Christmas Tree was heated up by the candles, it would spin and ring. Few people could go abroad in the late 1980s. That was why none of my friends had a Christmas tree like that. I recall a winter evening in the countryside. The oven was hot and made the entire house warm. The room was dark. The candles were on the table and the Christmas Tree top was spinning and making the sounds. As years went by, I lost some of its parts and now I don’t even know where it is. Nevertheless, the warm magic of that long-gone Christmas night is still alive in my heart. I don’t know where to buy a Christmas tree like that so if you tell me, I’ll be immensely grateful.