Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hopefully Coming soon to The Duluth Budgeteer...

Another Angle on Christmas

The first Sofia snow of 2008 fell on the day of fall parent-teacher conferences, and it was as lovely a white coat as ever cleansed a brown November landscape. But as the day wore on, no shovels appeared. No snowplows. No salt. Bulgarian pedestrians and drivers alike just got tough, and our parking lot reminded me vividly of the Congdon skating rink. As the ice turned to slush and back, I wondered what other surprises were waiting for me, and what the holidays here in Eastern Europe would be like. The Italian grocery store on our corner began sporting its Santa hat in October, but would that be the most festive thing about our holidays abroad?

In November, we took trips to Vienna and Prague, little guessing the merriment awaiting us. By pure Minnesotan luck, we visited each city on the opening day of its Christmas Market.

In Vienna, gothic spires towered above a holiday village – miniature wooden cabins selling sausages dipped in sweet dough, giant gingerbread hearts, home made soaps in every shade. We admired overflowing counters of nativity figures and cheese wheels, sipping hot mulled wine to warm us as we walked. Bright ornaments decked the tree branches overhead, and everyone smiled their delight as Austrians and visitors mingled along the paths.

In Prague, another international crowd packed opening night of the Christmas market in the old town square to see the annual tree lighting. Brett and I stood with the group, listening as a German choir sang a carol on stage. Czechs in the audience joined the song with their own words – timing a bit off - as I mouthed the English words, taking part in a trilingual celebration. The little boy on his mother’s shoulder just ahead grinned in our direction, seemingly oblivious to the cold as his hat slipped over his eyes. Around us, happy visitors ate baked cinnamon twirl doughnuts, shopped for Czech sweets and crafts, and admired the tiny dogs in winter coats. Our favorites were the dachsunds.

By December we were back at home and curious to see the holidays in Bulgaria, beginning with a celebration of Thanksgiving on St. Nicholas day - hosted by American and Canadian faculty. I volunteered to captain “Team Dessert.” As we churned out banana cream and pumpkin pies and cut apples for 15 pounds of sugary crisp, our friends carved 20 turkeys and mashed potatoes galore. By the time the Bulgarian faculty families arrived, we had cooked enough food for all 100 of us to enjoy together. At the same time we celebrated the “Name Day” of a wonderful staff member named Nikolai –- blending the Bulgarian tradition of celebrating life on the day of the saint bearing your name with the American one of Thanksgiving.

The holiday festivities will continue now, right up until the end of school. I’ve organized a cookie exchange sure to include Bulgarian and American favorites, and soon students will give their annual Christmas concert featuring traditional Bulgarian dances. Lights are appearing down town, and even illuminating a stray window here and there in the blocky apartment buildings all around us. It’s supposed to snow again tonight, and tomorrow I’ll open the next window in my Advent calendar. Here in Bulgaria, we are finding joy and community in the sharing of holiday traditions: German, Austrian, Czech, Bulgarian, Canadian and American.


Anonymous said...

I hope this one will be published, too, Betsy. Very nice! We're still hearing interested comments from friends and neighbors about the last column. It's nice for us to be drawn out about you and Brett, and others are enjoying the exchanges, as well. I'm happy you chose to do this for yourselves, your families, friends, and all the nameless people who've been pleasantly diverted by your words and photos. love mom

Anonymous said...

Betsy - it's Pat. I exclaimed over the beautiful yellow building with the columns and the winter tree in front of it - then your mom says it's where you have your classroom!! Wonderful! (and a lovely photo - I'd like that one on my screensaver - can it be arranged? Can't wait to see you both. Love, Pat