Tuesday, January 12
It's a Wonderful Life
Finally the holidays are over. It's not that I am complaining. I think I had the best of all possibilities. I got to celebrate both American and Ukrainian versions of the holidays. And I got to travel to Istanbul too. It's a wonderful life and a cheery counterpoint to this cold gray weather.
My holidays start with a visit to my niece and her family for Thanksgiving. They are living in Kiev and I have a great opportunity to be with my family and get to know their two sons - Brendan and Aidan. Both are smart inquisitive boys. They call me "Great" Uncle Jud and who am I to argue with their impeccable judgment.
Thanksgiving is great fun with other international guests. One couple is from Poland and another from the UK. Shannon (Jenny's husband) gives us a little quiz on Thanksgiving history and we all tell a few family tales.
I tell about a time when "Great "Uncle Peter ate a pound of butter from the dinning room table. Mom could not understand where it had gone until she discovered Peter with an empty dish under the table. At least that is the way I remember it.
Holidays pick up with the Ukrainian celebration of St Nicholas Day. At the Hearts of Love Center a big party is held for about 50 children. There are clowns who play a series of games. Miss Konotop, beauty pageant winner and her court of runner-ups, make a surprise appearance. They parade across the room with runway poise. The young girls and older men are delighted.
Then St. Nicholas comes along with another game and a special Bible lesson on the 10 Commandments. Sure its a potpourri of activities but when all get a sack of candy and sit down for cake, everyone is thrilled.
Next I leave on December 22nd for Istanbul. After a 3 1/2 hour delay I arrive near midnight to discover that my checked bag is no where to be found. ""Please help me," I whine to the woman behind the desk. She does not speak real good English, but she reads my exhausted body language well enough. I am close to melt down. I fill out a form (luckily I kept the little bag claim slip) and left with a promise.
The next day, the hostel crew follows up and my bag is found. The night manager teases that he will even place flowers on the bag when it arrives. I awake the next day and my bag is awaiting me...yes, with flowers! Hooray! You can read more about Christmas in Istanbul in my earlier posts.
I returned to Ukraine on December 29th. After a brief stop-over with my niece and family, I catch the Electrechka (electric train) to Konotop. While I was away. a new and more secure door is installed on my apartment. I also see a new cabinet doubling the space for food preparation to about two feet. Wonderful!
Tomorrow is New Years Day. For Ukrainians this holiday is more like American Christmas, but without the religion. Homes are decorated with New Year Trees. I am invited into a family's celebration.
By 10:00 pm we are all gathering at Babushka's house for a meal. Last moment preparations are underway. The 12 year old is excited because this meal features an entire roasted chicken. Yum! The dinner is delicious. As is typical, we nibble and drink and toast for several hours. As midnight arrives, a bottle of champaign is uncorked and hugs are shared.
A big bouquet of balloons is brought out. Everyone selects and pricks a balloon. We cringe as each explodes. Inside is a wish for the New Year. I think this is a splendid tradition and I pass it on. Simple, yet so magical and fun.
Later, Anna gives me a hand made card, The special New Years wish touches my soul.
We wish you health...so you may enjoy each day in comfort.
We wish you love of friends and family...and piece (sic) within our heart.
We wish you beauty of nature ...that you may enjoy the work of God.
We wish you wisdom to choose priorities...for those things that really matter in life.
We wish you generosity so you may share....all the good things that come to you.
We wish you happiness and joy...and blessings for the New Year.
We wish you the best of everything that you so well deserve.
Happy New Year!
Ukrainian Christmas follows a week later. I track down an Orthodox Church, but I think I missed the worship. Prayers are being said by a priest behind a wall, but there is no worship that I recognize. I must learn more.
A short Marschuka ride takes me to Oksanna who did not want me to be alone on Christmas Eve. My Ukrainian friends are so thoughtful. I vow to emulate their hospitality. It is such an important gift when you are a stranger in a different land.
Oksanna has prepared a wonderful meal and we all sit down for an evening of eating and laughing. Maxim, Oksanna's son, with Babushka.
Their Babushka joins us and at 79 she tells me she does not think of herself as older than 40. "But sometimes my body does not agree." She is healing from nasty fall on the ice. She needs a pair of YakTraxs. So I order her a pair and my friend Jim will forward them to me.
As I leave this loving home, it begins to lightly snow. Few cars or people are on the streets. I cannot help but feel nostalgic...home, family, and friends. It's a Wonderful Life... celebrating both American and Ukrainian holidays.
Town Square, Konotop, Ukraine