Christmas in Communist Romania

How does a church celebrate Christmas when the government is officially atheistic?

When Christians are persecuted and treated as second-class citi- zens, how do they, as individuals and as a church, anticipate the birth and celebrate the coming of Christ? This is how Daniel and Felicia explain it:

Protestant believers in Communist Romania were pejoratively named “Repentants.” They were given the worst jobs and looked down upon by the Communists. Christmas became a secular holiday without any relationship to Christ – the focus was on the Christmas Tree, which we put out a few days before Christmas. But because Christmas was still a holiday, we Christians really celebrated!

Protestant churches used Christmas as the best time to take our faith to the streets.

We celebrated with at least five services of two hours each, plus three nights of caroling through- out the towns and villages of secular humanist Romania. Caroling was a way to not only celebrate, but to also bear witness of our faith to others.

The Christmas celebration started sometime on Christmas Eve as we awaited the coming of the Christ Child. That two-hour worship service was followed by a full night of caroling. We sang carols in all sorts of groups: Sunday school classes, youth groups, brass bands, church choirs, or groups of families. The Christmas Day had a morning service at 10 am, to cel- ebrate Christ’s birth, and a 6 pm worship time, also focused on the coming of Christ. That evening service was followed by our second night of carol- ing. The day after Christmas Day we also had two worship services, one in the morning and one in the evening. Groups of children, choirs, orchestra, and worship team would have their best performance of the year during these services, starting rehearsals the first week of November.

Each caroling night was dedicated to a certain area of town.

Sometimes we sang outside of orphanages, hospitals or other public areas, but often we stood in front of a church or the homes of members. The hosts usually would have cakes and beverages, and some- times we would enter in a home to warm up and have some food.

Often we would see through the dark of night, a few windows crack open during the first carol, and a tape re- corder pushed through the opening so listeners could record our songs. Christmas carols were not available on the radio or on the two state-controlled TV stations. Although un-churched people were hungry to hear carols and the hope that Christ brings, they had to be careful not to be associated with the “Repentants” as they wanted to keep their good jobs and maintain their cur- rent lifestyle. The fellowship with church friends around Christmas and the opportunity to share openly our faith were things we definitely anticipated. We were so happy to bring Christ back into Christmas!

This is the kind of Christmas Felicia and I grew up with.

Although we had a Christmas Tree with a few gifts for kids, like socks and gloves, candy and – the special treat was getting a banana or an orange, which we had to share with our siblings.

It has been a long journey to the religious freedom of the United States. Sometimes, we miss the vigorous Christmases of our youth. The risk and the glory of belonging to God’s people—there is nothing like it when it could be snatched away in a moment! What a way to celebrate the coming of our Savior.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. —Isaiah 9:6

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