We Took a Train to Christmas
By Rev. Keith Turman | 2022-12-17 | 4 min read
The Kaunas station wasn’t very far from our apartment, but we barely made it none-the-less. The midnight train to Krakow was blowing its whistle, while a herd of Turmans, racing through the snow and ice, were dragging suitcases, children, and in-laws—desperately trying to reach the tracks without leaving anyone behind.
Christmas memories are great, and for me, they are usually very warm and fuzzy. People tell me stories about their Christmas traditions, and the similarities warm my heart and always make me smile. I love church Christmas play stories—it seems without fail, some kid in a bathrobe with a towel on their head will say or do something to bring the house down with laughter and become the catalyst for decades of, “I remember when…” tales. And I’m always curious about Christmas morning rules. My brothers and I would always wake up with the rooster, but the ‘rule’ kept us waiting upstairs—painstakingly—until Dad started shouting Santa has come! Santa has come! We had the rule because one never knew if Santa was still assembling the bike or setting up the railroad tracks for the Lionel model train set. Finally, we would sit on the couch in our pajamas in breathless awe at the work Santa and Mrs. Claus had done. Dad would read the Christmas story, and then all heaven would break loose. And just as the dust was beginning to settle, somebody would remember the stockings. We always forgot the stockings, but will always remember the stuff we found in them—like Aerosmith’s greatest hits cassette or a new pair of socks or a slinky. Mom would slip into the kitchen, and in no time the whole house smelled of homemade biscuits and country ham. Heaven continued to break loose in the Turman house.
We had to switch trains in Warsaw, and we got off at the wrong station. It was actually more like a concrete platform. A very cold one. But all was not lost. A sweet old man, dressed elegantly like he was on his way to the opera house, pointed us in the right direction. We made our connection, and the train carried us safely to our destination. Krakow is a magical place at Christmas time. The lights, the square, the Christmas markets and food stalls—accentuated with music and falling snow—filled our hearts with joy. The kids chased pigeons around the square with their wooden swords, and did battle under the cloisters of the royal castle. We decided to visit the Holocaust museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Four-year-old Ross was on my shoulders. I held onto his ankles as we walked in the cold of that place. At one point in the tour, at the railroad tracks near the entrance to the camp, Ross said, “I don’t like Auschwitz Daddy.” I squeezed his little ankles and said, “I don’t either, Ross. I don’t either.” As I looked down the tracks through the falling snow, I began to imagine the trains and the people arriving in time for Christmas. The nightmare of that place still haunts me—as it should.
We arrived at the station in Zakopane late on Christmas Eve, and woke up Christmas morning in the Dom Turysty Hotel—a place that seemed right out of the movie ‘The Shining.’ We discovered that the only restaurant open on Christmas morning in Zakopane, Poland, was McDonald’s. Walking out of the McDonald’s with steaming hot coffee, I did an all out—feet in the air—slip on the ice. As I landed on my back, the coffee exploded all over my face. It’s a favorite Christmas memory. Our missionary friends in Lithuania told us that Slovakia is a delightful and very affordable place to ski, so we took a Christmas train over the Low Tatras mountains to the Jasna ski resort. The snowflakes were the size of quarters, and the youngest Turmans learned to ski in a peaceful, Slovakian winter wonderland.
Every year, Christmas comes differently for all of us. Our memories and traditions can bring warmth and joy—creating excitement and anticipation. But they can also usher in a sense of dread—Christmas memories that are cold and painful and lonely. In Advent, we prepare and wait for God who comes. We wait for God who always finds a way to save us and deliver us. My prayer for us these days, is that Christ will come into our beauty and into our mess—and allow all heaven to break loose—to fill our homes and our lives with joy and peace.