Branch's celebration and worship service dispelled the gloom of World War II years

During the years of the Second World War in Bergen, Norway, our little branch and its activities must have been a little oasis of humanity. There the members could escape from the inhumanity of war, and the fears and insecurity they encountered daily.

A highlight during the holiday season was for the members to gather for a Christmas party and activities at the Bergen LDS Branch. The party was held on a night either just before Christmas or just after. To get to the branch celebration, our family had to walk through blacked-out streets. The streets were so dark that sometimes one would bump into people approaching. Some people would wear fluorescent badges on their coats that could be seen as a round glow coming nearer.At the branch, I still remember how the benches had been moved and tables with white coverings and dishes were there instead. There would be a Christmas tree so high I had to tilt my head back to see the top. The food I remember the most were mashed potatoes and wieners. The food would be blessed and served. After the meal, the members would sit for awhile and would sing songs together.

Next the tables and chairs would be moved out of the way and the Christmas tree moved to the center of the room. Then one of the sisters would play Christmas songs on the piano and the branch members would link hands forming circles around the Christmas tree. There were enough people attending to form several circles. The one circle would walk one way and another the opposite way around the tree, and everyone joined in singing Christmas carols. How peaceful, joyful and relaxing it was to link hands with a brother and sister in the gospel and to take part in singing Christmas carols carrying the messages about the Savior of the world.

Following the singing and Christmas tree activity, Santa Claus (Jule Nissen) arrived. In his sack he carried bags containing apples and nuts that he gave to the children.

The adversity of the war produced a loving close-knit group of brothers and sisters who lived the gospel under these adverse conditions and kept the branch running.

Christmas Eve was always a special occasion, especially for my family. On one particular Christmas Eve, I remember, we really had no room for a Christmas tree, but the older children insisted that we had to have a Christmas tree, so Mom compromised and waited for Christmas Eve when the price of trees dropped. Then she bargained for a small tree that sat on top of the sewing machine located in the front room. We children had fun cutting decorations out of paper that we got to hang on the tree. Some decorations were weaved baskets, and some were paper strips glued together into a chain of different colors draped over and hanging down the sides of the tree.

For months before, the family could smell the apples that Mom was saving for Christmas Eve. No matter how difficult it was to obtain some of the items the family had ration cards for, Mom seemed to be able to put away some flour and other ingredients to bake a few cookies for Christmas, rationed out so each family member could enjoy their share on Christmas Eve.

Then at 5 o'clock on Christmas Eve, the bells in the towers of the Lutheran churches in Bergen began chiming to ring in the Christmas season. The chiming bells harmonized. It sounded like one bell would call and another church bell would answer. I could feel chills down my back as I listened. The chiming really put a worshipful and perhaps a dignified mood to the celebration of Christmas. It was officially Christmas Eve when the chiming stopped.

That was the moment when we as a family, dressed in the best clothes each one possessed, sat around the table where Mom had placed the best she had available in linen and dishes. First, Dad would bless the food, and then at times we got Dad to read the Christmas story from the New Testament. Then the family enjoyed what food was there.

On many Christmas mornings, the brothers and sisters from our branch held a branch meeting. My sister described the Christmas morning of 1944 as the highlight of her life. In contrast, the year 1944 was a trying and difficult year for everyone. A greater number of people living in Bergen were killed and injured that year than any other year of the war. The branch building was situated within a block or so of where bombs destroyed a number of buildings. The highlight of that Christmas meeting to my sister was the feeling of calmness she felt there, so similar to the calmness she felt later in life while attending a temple. She also had the feeling that all the members there were one big family. The spirit of peace and joy was very intense. The spirit was so strong that my stern Sunday School teacher, sitting next to my sister, just broke down and sobbed as she listened to the music and the message of the Savior.

What a treasure it is to know the gospel of Jesus Christ. What a gift it is when one is granted to feel the spirit of peace and joy. What a heavenly gift the Saints received that Christmas morning.

"For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:20.) The members of the branch in Bergan, Norway, certainly felt Him in the midst of them that Christmas morning in 1944.

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