At home, the Christmas season is built up. The Christmas aisles in stores are assembled the day after Halloween; decorations are brought out from the garage in mid November; trees are bought and stockings are hung at the beginning of December at the latest.
But then, the day after Christmas, December 26th, it’s time to put it all away. Everything is repacked, restored, not to be unearthed again until November arrives next year (despite the fact that Christmas isn’t really over till Epiphany. But that’s another story). New Year’s arrives, and the parties rage, but then it’s all done. The new year starts, and 2011 is kicked off and then work, life, everything starts again and the holidays are over and forgotten.
Here it is the opposite. There are a few holidays in December, but they only lead up to the more important ones that follow. December 18th is the feast of St. Nicholas. This is the holiday which most closely resembles American Christmas, as St. Nicholas gives all the children presents. Here, it’s definitely a child’s’ holiday.
Next, the 25th of December roles around, but it arrives with little excitement. Ukraine is an Orthodox country, and so Christmas is not celebrated until the 7th of January. The 25th is half remembered as “Catholic Christmas,” or here, so close to the border, as “Polish Christmas.”
However, for me, the 25th is a holiday, and so we’ll count it as one. Mine was uneventful this year, and was celebrated quietly with a few teachers from my school. We simply went out to lunch, and they were sweet and made an occasion out of it because they knew for me, at home, it should be.
It’s not until the 26th or 27th that the New Year’s Trees (Christmas trees for Americans) are assembled and erected. There is one in the town square, and one in the homes of most of the families I’ve visited in Sosnivka so far. New Year’s is important here, and seems almost a bigger deal than New Year’s at home. In the States it takes a backseat to Christmas, as it follows this immense holiday by only a few days. However, here it is the bash that kicks off the holiday season, and it is celebrated in all it’s glory. I stood in my apartment, and looked out the window at midnight to see fireworks bursting in multiple points on the horizon, in the sky. Some just outside my building, being set off by teenage boys in the small square outside. Some I could hear from the town square behind my apartment. Others I saw being set off from balconies of the apartments surrounding and facing mine. They lit the sky, and cluttered the night, that five minutes before had been silent.
Short break, until Christmas! which is quite an occasion here. Celebrated almost nonstop for three days, it is a fiasco of family, friends, food, and felicity. Traditional foods are cooked (12 of them for the “Holy Supper” eaten on the 6th of January, representing the 12 apostles), carols are sung, love is shared and spread. Christmas morning, January 7th, then arrives, and it’s off to church, which I’m told starts at 5am and lasts many hours. Then Christmas breakfast, another very important meal. Finally, the third day rolls around and more celebration is to be had. More food, and drink, and laughter, and guests, and family. I’ll be eating Holy Supper as well as Christmas breakfast with the director of my school, who lives just a couple buildings over. Then the third day, I’m invited to Mary’s, one of the students in my 8th form class.
Finally Christmas is over, and you’d think the holiday season would be over too, but no, still one more. Ukraine, along with Russia, used to work on a different calendar, and so in keeping with the traditions of that old calendar, Old New Year’s is also celebrated on the 14th of January. It is not the intense celebration of New New Year’s or of Christmas, yet it is a holiday recognized and celebrated nevertheless.
And with that, finally, holidays are over.
Wait, did I say over. No! The holidays are never really over! There is always something to celebrate, to give thanks for, to have a merry time about…the new Volunteer arrives, or it’s the anniversary of the school, or your kids come home from being away at university, or it’s someone’s birthday. Life can be trying in Ukraine, but it is sweetened by finding reasons to celebrate.
Yet mid-December to mid-January definitely takes the cake. It is the month of holidays!