Wednesday, 1 January 2014

A Journey through Christmas with the Bifferts

The Beautiful Season of Advent

October finished and we whipped through November.  We still haven't any snow here in Trumau, though we've had a couple times where there was snow blowing.  This has been a month of praying as we have gone through the kids winter gear and are found wanting in many respects.  We found out about a second hand store in Baden and car-pooled and picked up snow pants for Kate and snow pants for Winter that are a couple inches too short but will have to do for this year.  We're still looking for snow pants for Tristan as his from last year are patched up with duct tape.  Now if the kids would just stop growing for a bit ...

Martinmas: Nov. 11

The feast day of St Martin of Tours is a grand celebration.  He is a Hungarian saint and since we are so close to Hungary this part of the country of Austria enjoys the festivities.  The tradition is to eat goose on Martinmas for it was the geese that he was hiding amoung that gave him away to the townsfolk who wanted him to become bishop.  As is tradition, the kids come singing songs and carrying lanterns and act out the story of his life.  

Winter and Kate are here amoung the people asking Martin to be their Bishop.

Here an angel appears to St. Martin.

Then we went inside the Heuriger and delved into roast goose and red wine and singing and dancing.  What a glorious night!

Benedict, Vidya and Anne.

Tree for Tavi:

In Trumau, for every child born they plant a tree.  Here is the tree (a hemlock) planted in Tavi's name.  There was about 16 other families with us all having their tree planted as well.  A very cool tradition.
Here we are with the Burgermeister and the assistant.

St. Margaret of Scotland Feast Day: Nov. 16th 

To celebrate St. Margaret we had our annual highland games with scones, tea and scotch.  Very good.
Winter and Magda having it out on the log wrestling competition.
Benedict doing his darndest against Marko.
Log toss competition.  Here is Alex about to throw the log and flip it as many times as he can.

Nov. 18th: Daddy turns 39!

After the family party, Jaro and I, since we both turned 39 in November celebrated an 'Old Men like to tell stories' birthday party.  We had cookies and milk, invited over the students and people went around the room telling stories.  It was quite a wonderful evening.

Two old men with two old man puppets.

Nov. 30th: American Thanksgiving

We celebrated American Thanksgiving this year in the keller in the schloss.  The Russian Cinema is under construction.  The food was unbelievable - glorious actually.  And of course the kids just ran around the castle wild and rounded them up late when they had exhausted themselves.

Something new:

Our slogan this past year has been "the first time for anything over here is always painful in some way." This was our first time sending out thank you (danke) cards to those who helped with Tavi's baptism.  I picked these cards out (below) as I thought they looked classy.
Well it turns out that I get a phone call because we gave one to the priest and he was wondering who had died and was all confused!  You see, a black border on an envelope in Austria is a sign of death or condolences.  We didn't bother translating the message inside as we thought it was just a regular thank you card.  Too funny.  Lesson learned.

Advent Begins: Week #1

All year Winter has been involved with the community children's choir.  On the first Sunday of Advent she and her choir sang at the parish with the adult choir.  Here are a few pictures and videos.
Winter is the one with the green toque in the front.

Dec. 6th: St. Nick comes to town!

It is always to joy to see the kids faces when they check their boots outside the door in the morning.  The evening before the kids had a plan: they made sure the door was unlocked and the apartment main corridor door was propped open.  Then they had the idea that maybe St. Nick gives only enough treats to fit in the boots that are out and thus they began to put out all the boots and shoes and sandals that we owned.  This was shut down quickly under the premise that St. Nick does not like greedy little kids!

St. Nick comes to ITI!  This is a great video made by the students of St. Nick looking for the kids whilst they waited in a common kitchen for him to show up.  And then he shows up at the door - it was brilliant!
St. Nick as filmed in action by ITI

This second video is after St. Nick 'finds' the kids and we along sing him a song.

Advent Week #2:

Advent in Austria is a huge time of anticipation. There are advent markets in every village and city where kids go on rides, see animals, and adults buy gifts and drink mulled wine.  Winter performed (up above) at the opening of the Trumau Advent Market celebrations.  In the 2nd week, ITI had there own community Advent Market and it was my turn to perform.  I acted out the role of St. Francis and the lines were all in German.  Truly, I'm a sucker for punishment, but actually this round of acting I actually felt like I knew what I was saying and I wasn't just saying words that I had memorized ... or maybe the lines were just easier and dumbed down ...
And Dr. Dolna played Pope Innocent!

And after the acting, the kids (Benedict, Tristan and Winter included) sang the prayer of St. Francis with actions.

With the school choir, Winter did another concert at the town hall Christmas dinner.  Though actually, the children's director was sick and most of the kids got the message not to show up.  Alas - we did not.  So Winter and a few others just did the one song and that was it.

3rd Week of Advent:

In the 3rd week of Advent again find Winter performing, but this time along with Tristan and Benedict at a seniors home.  This performance was with the Kisi club recently set up in Trumau.  Kisi stands for 'God's singing kids'.  They do musicals and performances all over the world and hopefully our local club will get to participate in a musical as well.

Dec. 13th: St. Lucy's Feast Day

As is our tradition, Winter (and I) made breakfast for the family and then the girls dressed up as St. Lucy and shared Christmas baking with the kids around the campus.

White represents the purity of St. Lucy, red represents her martyrdom, the candles and wreath represent her being a light to the world.

Here Therese and Anne joined in the St. Lucy celebrations as well.

Advent Markets:

Austria loves Advent markets.  We were able to go to one this year and decided to go to Karlsplatz.  Here the fountain area was filled with straw for the kids to play in and there were rides for the kids as well.

The kids were allowed to pick one ride and one treat.  Here they picked a ride they had to power themselves.  A great way to warm them up on a chilly day!

4th Week of Advent:

In the 4th week we celebrated Ember Days.  Ember Days come 4 times a year at the change of the season.  It is a time of prayer and fasting, but also a time to go outside with the kids and discuss the changes in nature.  Then we discuss how the changes reflect our spiritual journey.  So we took off into the woods on the other side of the Trumau train tracks. This turned out to be a bit of a surprise as we unwittingly stumbled into the middle of a hunters reserve.  However, we had fun exploring and none of us got shot!

Corn troughs to entice the deer.

Now these hunter treehouses are all around in various hiking trails we had been on so it didn't alarm us to be see one in this area.

Here we found an old well in the trees.  We tried to pump water, but to no avail.

As we walked further the alarm bells began to go off as we discovered salt licks, piles of corn on the ground and even piles of turnips.

The obvious conclusion was that the first trough of corn wasn't just left over from some hunters, the place was loaded with these 'traps' for deers and thus there must be hunters around.

 We fooled around a bit longer and hightailed it out of the war zone and walked the tracks back to campus.  Another successful Ember Days with a bit of adventure (and a snack) on the side.

Christmas Eve:

Christmas Eve was very rich for us this year.  It began with Mass (since we don't have a car we can't carry 5 kids to and from midnight Mass).  At Mass we received the flame from Bethlehem delivered to the parishes around Austria by horse.  We broke fast with a traditional fish dinner (Carpfin Blau).

After cleaning up we sang for the last time 'O come O come Emmanuel' and processed with the flame from Bethlehem to place Jesus in the manager.

Then with the one flame we watched it spread from candle to candle and light up the whole room.  What a powerful image this was for the kids.


I wanted a Christmas tree this year that had the right formation to place candles on the entire tree.  I went with Franz our gardener and I picked out a tree.  The seller wanted 70 euros.  Yikes.  And my choice wasn't extravagant.  So I told him the max I could spend on a tree was 25 euro.  He took us to the back and showed us this puny scrag of a tree.  So Franz asked the seller if he was Catholic.  He concurred.  Then Franz explained what I was doing in Austria at ITI and the seller gave me 60 euro tree for 25 euro.  This was a wonderful blessing!

Our Jesse Tree this year took on a new meaning.  All the symbols we put on the tree we used to discuss with the kids how the entire Old Testament points to Jesus through types and prophecies.   For example, if we put up the symbol of Isaac, we'd ask how does the story of Isaac foreshadow the story of Jesus?

1st day of Christmas:

This year we made a stronger effort to celebrate Christmastide - the entire octave of Christmas.  I am more and more convinced that we cannot and should not celebrate the greatest event in history that has changed the world, peoples lives (including our own) in one day.  The incarnation of God becoming man is worth so much more than a day.  
So we decided that for each day we would try to:
a. open something special
b. eat something special
c. do something special
So we took the presents from grandma/grandpa, aunts and uncles, and the few we purchased and numbered them from day 1 - 8.  Some days they each received a gift.  Some days there was one gift for the family.

Thus, each of the 8 mornings of Christmas we began with the rosary and read the Bible and then opened a gift.

Rebecca was a just a bit excited to receive a sandbag for working out at home.  Thanks Michael for bringing to Austria for us!!!

 Winter wants to walk in the footsteps of her father and is already taking great pictures!

Yes, Tristan loves lego!

 Katie enjoyed her Duplo.

And Benedict received the largest gift - a playmobile castle we picked up off of

Daddy received a Monastic Diurnal from the Benedictine order of monks.  It was a great idea to limit the gift to one and a stocking stuffer.  They focused on the one gift for the day.  There wasn't a greedy frenzy for more and more gifts.  It was a great choice.

2nd Day of Christmas: (Boxing Day or St. Stephen's Day)

The tradition on this day is to 'box' up things that you are not using or playing with anymore and give them to someone.  So the kids went through all their drawers and we took a large bag out of toys to give away.
We opened up a family gift (game) and indulged on many Christmas goodies.

3rd Day of Christmas: (St. John's Feast Day)

On this day we opened up the gifts from Grandma and Grandpa Biffert.  
Then we headed off to Vienna to partake in an activity dear friends of ours in Canada paid for us to do. We have always wanted to go see the Marionette shows that Austria is famous for.  But they are touristy and expensive.  But today, the Bifferts saw 'The Magic Flute' by Mozart as performed by marionette puppets at the Schonbrunn Palace.
We arrived a bit early so we are relaxing in the gardens behind the palace.

Here are some of the puppets relaxing after a tough show backstage.  When you see the puppets they seem so small because when you watch the show your mind blows them up to much larger - almost an optical illusion.

When we got out the puppet show the Christmas market was in full swing including a dixieland band.  The kids were dancing and we quite enjoyed the enchanting atmosphere and all the little shops.

4th Day of Christmas: (Feast Day of the Holy Innocents)

On this wonderful feast day we usually let the kids choose their breakfast and supper and activity.  But we had plans that interfered so we moved our Holy Innocents feast day till the day after.  So this day we went skating and spent a wonderful evening singing eating and singing Christmas carols with the DeMeos.

5th Day of Christmas: (Feast Day of the Holy Family)

This is our Holy Innocents day where we honor the children.  We began with the rosary as usual, a gift, and then waffles!  Then after a beautiful Mass at St. Rochus in Vienna we went swimming at Dianabad in Vienna where they had a wave pool and slides and a pirate ship to play on.  The kids barely had enough energy to eat their pizza for supper.

6th Day of Christmas:

This day found us needing a bit of a break.  So we relaxed at home, made some oliebollen and buttercake and prepared for New Years Eve.

7th Day of Christmas: (St. Sylvester's Feast Day or New Years Eve)

In Austria this day is called Sylvester's Day and not New Years Eve.  We had friends over and celebrated the New Year till 2am.  We allowed the kids to stay up as long as they wanted to, but if you know our kids this isn't very long.  They all had put themselves to bed by 9pm.  We stood on the balcony and watched 100's of fireworks going off in Trumau and toasted with champagne.  

8th Day of Christmas: Mary, Mother of God

As this is a holy day of obligation, we dragged ourselves out of bed and after the rosary and the last family gift (icons to pray with) we headed off to Divine Liturgy to celebrate Mary and the circumcision of Christ (which happened on the 8th day after He was born) which is celebrated by the Byzantine rite. And that really had to be our special thing today because then mommy and daddy collapsed on the couch and slept.  Like our dearest Katie.

Kenton's November, December Reading List:

St. Bede: Ecclesiastical History of the English People
St. Thomas Aquinas: STIa, Q.75-78 - on What is the human soul?
Origen: On tents and wells
Origen: Exaltation of Martyrdom
St. Athanasius: Life of St. Anthony
Bl. Cardinal Henry Newman: Apologia Pro Vita Sua

Sermon from the Vineyard:

My thoughts this Christmas have been wrapped up in the contemplation of the incarnation.  Rebecca and I both feel that we really celebrated Christmas this year.  We really celebrated birth of God becoming man.  We have both been inspired by the book 'The Trapp Family Singers.'  It is the story of the von Trapp family we know so well from the 'Sound of Music' musical.  One thing that Maria Trapp says that bound her family together through the unbelievable tests of faith they went through was that their family sang together.  Becca and I took this to heart.  Thus, at evening meals during advent we would sing by candlelight songs longing for the coming of the Messiah.  And now we sing songs of rejoicing celebrating Christ's coming.  The kids have really enjoyed the it and I believe something deep happens when a family sings together and prays together.  As all of us enter into 2014 we as parents need to ask ourselves again - in a world where families break up and fall apart, what do we need to do to keep our family together.  For our family, prayer and Bible reading in the morning works for us, singing together, memorizing Psalms together, Mass together and so forth.  Our family and your family is precious.  It must be our priority.

Pictures for the Grandparents:

Kate choosing to be grumpy.
 Kate wanting to still be grumpy and trying not to smile.
 Tavi making another declaration!
 Tavi is waving good - bye!
Man, my boys are handsome!

  We wish you all a Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year and may you come out of 2014 united more strongly together as a family and to Christ and His Church.

Love, Kenton, Rebecca, Winter, Tristan, Benedict, Kate, and Tavi

Mailing Address:
Schloss Trumau
Schlossgasse 21
2521 Trumau, Austria

 If you would like to financially support us - the easiest way is probably by paypal.  Our email is Or online via the ITI website: - in the space titled 'notes' just write that the money is for the Biffert family.

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