I was writing down things that were synonomous with Christmas of my growing up years. At the top of my list was:
â€œNo family. No aunts, uncles, cousins , or grandparentsâ€�.
Then of course there were all the things that made Christmas special like all the traditional Polish foods my parents prepared for this traditional meal for their small family of six. Then we had special Ukrainian dishes like studenetz and nalesnykeh. Salted herring in gallons was purchased and my Mom prepared these for my dad. Iâ€™m surprised he still wanted them after being fed these by Stalin. My Mom had specialty desserts she learned to make in Austria after taken there by Hitler. Then there were the beautiful Polish Christmas cards and letters that came every year from families in Poland that we only knew from albums. My Mom would reread the letters and the sparkled cards were displayed on china cabinets with her crocheted doilies. Then, there was the oplatek that we shared and couldnâ€™t understand why we
ate it. Then there was the spruce choinka my dad cut fresh from local fields. He nailed a cross to the bottom of the tree and stuck it into a pail of watered sand. The choinka dripped in sparkling tinsel and foil painted Christmas ornaments. I remember midnight mass and usually my dad had drank too much by then. As we got older we all drank too much by then and midnight mass was soon a thing of the past. The first evening star I associated with
angels singing. We heard stories of how in Poland , when our parents were small, food was shared with animals on Christmas Eve and hay was laid on the table under white tablecloths. Strange customs from the other side of the world. Our meals were strange to others in the community as no one else ate borsch, perogies, cabbage rolls or made studenetz. Oh how lucky we were to grow up with these foods. As we all became adults with our own children we brought those old Christmas traditions into our own families. Now that I am older I think about the loneliness that my parents must have felt at this time of year being in a country that was foreign to them in every way and having no immediate family to
share the festive season, when everyone else celebrated with family. I imagine this was a similar scene for many who were scattered all over the world rebuilding their lives after the war. I am grateful for those old memories when Christmas meant more than a present. It is not until you are older than you can appreciate everything that is synonymous with Christmas from childhood. Over family dinners, ask your guests what is synonymous with Christmas in their memories from childhood and youâ€™ll have lots of great reflections and lots of laughs.
Merry Christmas to all Kresy-Siberia members and a Happy New Year.
Light a candle, salt your potatoes and give thanks to those who brought their Polish heritage into your lives.