Sunday, 25 January 2015

A Dicken's Christmas

A Dickens Christmas

Fr. John Saward suggests that Charles Dickens has preserved what Christmas should look like: time together as a family in front of the fire place, with mirth and song and Christmas delights. Our Christmas, this year, was like this. 

GK Chesterton describes it this way: 

“Finally on Christmas Eve,” Chesterton said, “we should shut our doors to the world and bring our family inside and simply be with each other, with the tree, the presents, the creche. This is the feast of the Holy Family, the family. It is indeed a time for others but only after it is an exclusive time with those nearest to us.’”

For the first time we didn't rush around with a bunch of plans and travelling and people to see and things to do. In fact, we did the opposite. We shut the door and were a family. We played games together, sang together, ate together, read together and it was fantastic.

Our intent was to celebrate the Christmas Octave as we will show below, but the octave wasn't enough. We were unprepared for the feeling of not willing to let Christmas go so we continued to the end of Christmastide (the Twelfth Night). This is the way Christmas was meant to celebrated.

Here is our journey through Christmas:

Christmas Eve:

After the early Eve Mass at the parish we headed home for Christmas Eve dinner. The tradition is to have fish and this year we opted for shellfish - muscles. 

A Christmas Eve family picture:

In Europe, on Christmas Eve the scouts carry a blessed flame from Bethlehem to each Catholic parish (everyone I think). They arrive with the flame on horse back and that flame is then taken home by each of us. It is with this small touch of Bethlehem that we processed into the living room singing and lighting candles and placing baby Jesus in the creches.

Then, just as Mary carried the light of the world, so our mom carries the light and lights the candles on the tree for the first time.

Our tree was special this year as it came as a gift. I asked Winter's school if we could purchase the tree in the front entry way after the school closed on the 23rd of Dec. They said we could have it for free. A tree this size costs around 70 euro in Austria, so we were completely blessed with a well-shaped and tall tree!

Then out come the Christmas treats we'd been making all through Advent. We were not allowed to even taste them until this holy night was upon us. So with kinderpunch, spiced wine, and delights we listened to the Christmas story...

... and just relaxed and watched the flickering candles.

Eventually, the kids fell asleep. Winter put out the treats for Santa and Rudolf and they were off to bed.

First Day of Christmas: Christmas Day

The joy of Christmas day: presents, food, mirth, laughter, family - this is what Heaven will be like.

In celebrating the octave of Christmas, we did not give all the gifts (from us and others) to them on the first day. They received one gift on Christmas day and played with all day. It was a perfect idea.

We always begin Christmas Day with the rosary as we pray the mystery of the birth of Jesus.

Winter received a jewellery box ...

... the boys - Marvel Lego ...

and Kate... what did she get in that big bag ...

... Polly Pockets!! ...

Mommy received a book on eating vegetables and fruit. (I should've wrapped up a broccoli for her in her stocking).

And daddy received Austrian Schwein sausage and cheese!

... and Santa and the reindeer ate their snacks.

The girls playing Polly Pockets!

And the kids crashed after a long Christmas Day merriment!

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

And every morning for the next 7 mornings are Christmas Day for us. We sit around the tree, pray the rosary, and open another gift (maybe a gift for the whole family, or a gift for the girls to share and one for the boys to share or maybe a gift for each). 

On Boxing Day we usually go through the kids toys and pack up what they haven't played with for a year to give away. However, this was skipped and put to a different day. 

3rd Day of Christmas: St. John the Beloved's feast day

On this day it snowed for the first time! So of course we went to Mass in our new toques and scarves that Grandma Biffert made for us that we opened up that morning. Then we took off for a day of sledding!

... and collapsed at the end of the day!

4th Day of Christmas: Feast of the Holy Innocents

This is the day that we honour our children. They got to choose the meals for the day (which always ends up in waffles and pizza) and we do something special. Today, it was decided by all to go sledding again. 

5th Day of Christmas: 

The kids each received an audio book so this meant the day was very quiet. They each sat and listened to their books on mp3 players and then listened to each other's books. We ended off the day like we were doing each night with Christmas carols, homemade eggnog and goodies. 

6th Day of Christmas: 

On this day we prayed, opened up gifts, sledded and had a dancing party after supper. The kids were a bit crazy!

And mommy started playing her new Beethoven sonatas. And when she does, the whole household becomes peaceful.

7th Day of Christmas: New Year's Eve

Winter helped me make Oliebollen (a Dutch New Year's Eve treat) and in the evening we celebrated as a family. After the kids crashed, and ours crash early, we headed over to the Steele's apartment to bring in the New Year with ITI families. Then we watched 100's of fireworks from our balcony.

8th Day of Christmas: Mary Mother of God feast day

After a beautiful Divine Liturgy we spent the day playing games. We were given 3 games for Christmas by a family at ITI and we opened them on this day and played all day long.

Now this is where it felt wrong to end Christmas. We were still spending each evening singing together in front of the tree and eating Christmas treats and reading Christmas books out loud to the kids. It was then we decided we needed to make a change and celebrate till the Feast of Epiphany as they did in Middle Ages. This felt right. So we baked a little more and ate more and feasted more.

Winter has been mastering various recipes and as she received a 'House on the Prairie' cookbook for Christmas she was all over discovering new delights to bake.

In the olden days they celebrated between Mary Mother of God and Epiphany an Adam's Day, Eve's Day and a Dancing Day. We weren't that organized this year, but decided to use these days at 'Date Days.'  On Adam's Day the boys will go on a date with mom and vice versa on Eve's Day.


When Epiphany arrived, we opened up gifts in honour of the wise men giving gifts and went to Divine Liturgy. It was kind of funny in that at home we celebrate the western liturgical calendar and celebrated Epiphany. And in the Eastern rite at Divine Liturgy they celebrated the baptism of Jesus. So we received two major feast days in one day! Here are some photos of the feast of the Baptism of Jesus:

Here Father Juraj is blessing the water for us to take home and bless our homes with.

Then the water that flows into the homes of Trumau is blessed and we pray for all the those that drink the water for health and healing and salvation.

The eastern tradition is to then throw the cross into the waters and all the men dive in after it.  As seen in this picture:

The was was a bit to shallow to dive for here ...

so the kids (and Max) took turns walking into the water to get the cross.

And this ended a most beautiful, binding, restful Christmas. Becca and I both came away feeling refreshed and at peace. It was the best Christmas we've had yet.

Christmas Reads:


Father Elijah by Michael O'brien
Third Kingdom by Terry Goodkind
Eyes Wide Open by Ted Dekker
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens


Tristan and Isolte
The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

Thoughts from Austrian Vineyard

Sometimes we get mocked for putting so much emphasis on building traditions as a family, and celebrating together. I've been told that I'm going to have a real awakening to reality when I leave ITI and move back to the 'real world'. I've thought about this and I don't believe it to be so.

For Catholics, tradition is sacred. It is what binds my faith with the faith of Peter and Paul. To know that I celebrate the Mass in the same way the early Church Fathers did binds me to them. It works to make our family one. It keeps us together.

If this has worked for the Catholic Church and after 2000 years the Catholic Church is still strong (despite many unruly times) - I think tradition is a force to be embraced.

The other aspect I think about a lot is the topic of celebrating. I think we've lost the knowhow when it comes to celebrating. True, meaningful celebration is grounded in divine worship. In the Roman and Greek culture this was obvious. All celebrations and feasts were centred around the worship of the various gods. Without a grounding in divine worship celebration becomes, as Joseph Pieper would suggest, as empty as a Maypole or Labor day celebration. Compare: on a Canadian holiday such as Victoria Day or Labor Day - do we celebrate anything or is it simply a day to get time and a half at a job or an extra day to rest before we have to work again? Whereas Christmas or Easter where the holiday is grounded, its reason for being there is rooted in divine worship - here our celebrations take on a different depth and anticipation and mirth.

As a family, I think we are getting good at celebrating and worshiping and are learning to rest in the celebration and not to use it as 'rest for work'.  We are learning to give in to extravagance and giving and to stop life (so to speak). Where we need to focus now is on celebrating Sundays. Each Sunday is day of celebration where we celebrate as a community, as a Church, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If Sunday is just a day to catch up on household duties and get rest before jumping into Monday then we miss the point of 'honouring the Sabbath'.  So, for the Biffert family this looks like a special evening meal with candles and dessert, Holy Mass and prayer as a family, and NO WORK (work as in daddy doing school work or going to a job). And we'll keep working on learning how to celebrate Jesus together as a family on Sundays ...

Pictures for the Grandparents 

Katie had a rough few weeks with a bronchial cold that left her gasping for breath. We needed to use the inhaler machine to help her body get through it. Benedict received a magic kit for Christmas and is his first showing as a magician elect.

Here is Benedict's "magic potion" recipe to get stronger. He was inspired to gain strength from the Asterix and Obelix comic books.

Above: First you get the vita-mix, and then you get some eggs and some more eggs. 2: grind it up. 3: get zucchini and spinach.

 Below: 4: you need greens and some fruit and chia seeds.  Then you need grind up all the things together. The End. Please don't tell anyone as this is a 'secret' recipe!

 Katie's first time skating at the rink in Bad Vöslau.

The following photos are courtesy of Winter E. Biffert!

Tristan on his first day of school.

Having the kids' mentors over for our weekly Saturday night dinner.

Benedict's underwear jump!

Prayer Requests:

1. Please continue to keep Winter in your prayers: she is scheduled for March 9th to have the tumour in her foot surgically removed. The pain seems to be getting worse and she is missing a lot of school as she wakes up in pain from the tumour.

That is all!  We wish all of you a blessed Candlemas and much personal growth in this next year. A blessed New Year to all of you our friends and family.
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 provided just write that the money is for the Biffert family. 

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