Editor’s Note: This interview with Robert Tšerenkov originally appeared in the Estonian Methodist Church Magazine. Since 2018 Robert is the District Superintendent of Estonian Methodist Church (EMK). Many people know Olva Pärnamets and Taavi Hollman well, and folks who attend the yearly FOE Gathering often get to meet and become better acquainted with the District Superintendent. The FOE communications team thought this interview would be a great way to ‘get to know’ Robert better. We thank him for sitting for the interview and hope you enjoy it. Robert is married to Amy, and they have two children Christopher and Michael. The interview and the Translation into the English language by Marjana Luist.
How does your family celebrate Advent? Do you have any special traditions for this season?
We have a tradition to give Advent calendars as presents to our kids. The calendars have 24 small windows with small chocolate behind it – one for each Advent day. My wife and I want the Advent season not to be just a time to eat chocolate but to make it more meaningful. For this reason, we read the Bible, pray, sometimes sing Christmas carols at the breakfast table before children open their Advent calendars to get a piece of chocolate. For Bible reading and discussion, we use texts that describe the stories of the birth of Jesus. The texts have short phrases that summarize the Bible story. We discuss the plan of God to save the world by sending His Son as a baby to the Earth. Through this story, we discover God´s heart and nature, and we learn from the examples of the people that were chosen by God to fulfill His plan on the Earth. We prepare ourselves for His coming.
How does your family celebrate Christmas? Do you have any special traditions for Christmas?
We bring a Christmas tree in our home, and we decorate it. We have many Christmas tree decorations that are not just regular Christmas balls, but we have ornaments with Christian symbols on them. So we decorate our Christmas tree with decorations that hold Christian meaning.
On December 24th or 25th, we celebrate Christmas with our relatives. Usually, there are 30-40 people coming together. We give gifts to each other, sing Christmas carols and eat.
The Russian speaking congregation in Tallinn has its Christmas service on December 25th. The next day there is usually a children´s Christmas service where a lot of children come too, among them, there are many non-Christian children. Last year there were about 400 people coming to the children’s Christmas service.
What is the most important Advent or Christmas tradition for your family?
The Christmas service, of course. Christmas is not just about feast or gifts. Christ is the center of Christmas.
Getting together with relatives is also very important.
Do some of your Christmas traditions originate from the United States because your wife is an American?
On Christmas morning, we put toys or sweets into Christmas socks that are usually hung over the fireplace. This tradition originates from the US.
Does Santa Claus or elves belong to your Christmas customs?
(Interviewer’s note: In Estonia, during the Advent season, the elves peek behind the windows to check if the children behave appropriately and put sweets into the slippers that are on the window sill. On Christmas Eve, Santa Claus knocks on the door, comes inside, and gives gifts to those who have behaved properly. To get a gift from Santa, you need to read a poem by heart.)
Not really. When we are together with our relatives, then someone may put on the red hat and play Santa, but this is just for fun, and no-one is actually sneaking out and costuming as Santa Claus. In our family, we have never told our kids that it´s Santa Claus who brings gifts. In our family, we haven´t had the elves tradition either. Our children have never put their slippers on the window sill. We have always used the Advent calendar. When I was a small kid, I remember we had a slippers-on-the-window-sill-period as well, but as soon as the shops started to sell the Advent calendars, we stopped this tradition.
So you believed in elves when you were a child?
Well, I don´t know if I believed in them, but I did take candy from my slipper in the mornings.
What do you think about how Jesus would like people to celebrate Advent and Christmas season?
I´m sure He would like us to use the season for thinking about who is the center of Christmas. That´s Him. Christmas shouldn´t become a commercial holiday or event.
I believe that Christ would like us to use the season to share Good News and do good deeds. This is one of the reasons we, as the Russian speaking part of the congregation in Tallinn, have organized children´s Christmas service year after year. We have prepared hundreds and hundreds of candy packs, visited schools, and kindergartens to explain the real meaning of Christmas.
I believe Christ would like us to put Him in focus during the Christmas and helping those who are in need of help. I like it when people do positive surprises during Christmas. For example, making donations to the pastor´s fund or making surprises for someone who is in need and treasures the surprise. These are valuable customs for Christmas.
FOE wants to help the church in Estonia reach out to their community. If you would like to donate or get involved with the Tallinn church’s Russian language outreach during Christmas email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get you connected to Vital Baranov who works with Russian language youth at the Tallinn EMK.
donations can be sent directly to Tallinn Methodist Church´s account:
EMK Tallinna Kogudus
Explanation: Russian congregation – Chidren´s Christmas event
Bank name: Swedbank AS
Bank address: Liivalaia 8, 15040 Tallinn