Monday, January 02, 2006

A Russian Christmas

Being that I have the genetic pedigree of a pound mutt, I can claim my heritage as being part Scot, part Irishman, a oui bit of Frenchman, an Aleut Indian and even a smidgeon of Russki, not necessarily in that order. All of these pan-human traits come out in my behavior. In the aforementioned order, I’m cheap, but I’m gregarious, I appreciate good food and art, and I know how to build a fire in the snow. Lastly, I get a little depressed around the holidays and have cravings for vodka-flavored pasta sauce. Also, I am a very lucky person, having married a beautiful girl with a full-on Russian heritage.

Both of the Missus'parents came from Russian families and so I have had the good fortune to learn a fair amount about how they see the world, and how they celebrate the holidays. For sheer beauty and grace, I ask the wife's mother, ‘Ma-ma’, about what her Christmases were like when she was a child. “ father would take us to the North Lake Community Center where they had parties, my mother used to make Vareniki and Holodets, divinity too…we always had a lot of food around.”
Divinity? Is that a Russian delicacy?
“Grampa was part Irish, he liked sweets…at least until he got diabetes.”
Ok, so food was a big deal. Good, I like food. But because her father, The Famous Russian, is a gourmet cook and as Russian as they come, I had to ask him. At his house for the american version of Christmas, I cornered him at the stove while he was pinching the piroskis.What is a Russian Christmas, Papa?
He glowered the way he does every time I ask him anything, "What!" he shouts as though I am hard of hearing, “The old calendar was 13 days later than this new, Gregorian one. Russian Christmas is on January 7th!” Now this I like, I get to have TWO christmas dinners, right? “NYET!” he corrects. “ You must fast for 39 days, from November until Christmas eve, on January 6th!” Fast? Wait a minute..the Irishman in me flared up, not even a little eggnog? “For traditional Russians, you cannot eat any meat until Christmas eve, when Kutya is served.” Ok, ‘Kutya’, that sounds good, what is it? “Porridge! symbolizes hope and immortality!” I began to complain that it didn’t make sense to live forever if all you could hope for was porridge, but he began again. We serve Baklazhan and Perogi on Christmas day, along with Holodetz.” Oh yes, what exactly is that jellied stuff anway”
“Holodetz?..Is boiled hooves and pig meat..served with good!” Gulp. Let’s move on, Papa. What other traditions do you remember from your boyhood?

“A ‘Yelka’ is put in the living room and decorated with colored lights and flowers.” I know what that is, a Christmas tree, right? “DA,..and of course, there is Ded Moroz.” Dead Morose?? That sounds horrible, Papa! “Nyet,..Ded Moroz means ‘Grandfather Frost’ he lived in woods and rode about in beautiful troika, with three stallions, his grandaughter, the snowmaiden ‘Snegurochka’ would help him hand out presents to children of all faiths.”

Snegurochka? Sounds like a sneeze. “Snegurochka was beautiful daughter of Spring and Frost…she yearned for companionship of mortal humans, but her was unable to know love.” Wow, this is so Russian, I love it…what else, Papa? “It is said that.. out of pity, her mother relented to give Snegurochka ability to know love.” Fantastic, and that’s why she gives presents to the children? “NYET!..Snegurochka met handsome young Cossack and on very day she fell in love, she melted into pool of water!” That’s a wonderfully sad story, Papa. Makes me want a drink of vodka. “Da.. is good to share a drink…we toast.” Hey, I know how to toast.. “Naz dyroovnia", right? “DA,..but there is no such thing as truly short, russian toast…you say, ‘Za Vas’, which means, ‘to you’, or you may say "Zah vsyo kharohshoyeh"..which means ‘may everything be good in your life.’
And how do you say, Happy New Year, Papa?
“Schastia V Novom godoo!” Easy for you to say, but I’ll stick with ‘Za Vas.’


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