I recently met a young couple giddy with the jubilant spirit of Christmas. It was a rare encounter as Christmas traditions are under assault and condemned on the altar of progressivism and Islam. He wore a red and green elf vest and a Santa hat over his regular clothes and a big smile of good cheer. His lovely wife had donned a beautiful red dress with sparkling tinsel on the left collar. He told me how much he enjoyed Christmas and decorating trees which he left up every year late into January, even past the Russian Orthodox Christmas on January 6.
We started talking and I told them about our Christmas celebration and our fir tree, thin and puny on branches and ornaments, but high on spirits. They listened politely but then I realized from the expression on their faces and the look in their eyes that neither one could relate to the description that followed. They were millennial young and recently married.
I told them how we decorated the blue spruce with real candles, apples, cookies, and home-made shiny paper ornaments, with a few and rare Bohemian glass ornaments, and how we lit the tiny candles every night for a few minutes – they were clipped as far to the outside branches as possible to avoid catching the tree on fire. To mom’s exasperation, Daddy would nail the base of the tree stand to the parquet floor. A few oranges, apples, and cookies were hung on each branch with colorful string, and chocolate bonbons and plump raisins filled home-made cardboard tiny baskets decorated with red and green crepe paper.
Larger cities decorated a huge tree in the center of town with colorful lightbulbs and organized a winter carnival with rides on St. Nicholas Day, December 6. New Year’s Day was a secular holiday decreed so by the Communist party but Christmas was not really a holiday at all.
People who lived in villages stuck to tradition and celebrated Christmas. Priests opened the modest and very cold churches for services on Christmas Eve. I attended services with my aunt Leana who was a deacon and a cantor. Churches in the mountainous areas were more active so far away from the prying eyes of communists.
Caroling, donations of food to people less fortunate, and having an extended family meal to celebrate Christmas was the highlight of our year. During certain days, we went from house to house with elaborately prepared plates of food and baskets of goodies for those less fortunate, widowed, old, or sick.
Villagers learned to care for each other in good times and bad. They bartered services and things they had in excess with other neighbors since money was so tight. People learned to adjust to their communist-imposed poverty in so many creative ways.
My parents, my secret Santa (Mos Craciun), would put a small food item by my pillow which I would find on Christmas morning – an unwrinkled apple, a fragrant orange from Israel, a green banana from Greece, or a bittersweet chocolate bar. Christmas was good for us kids because we were oblivious to our state in life. We had no idea how hard adults struggled to make ends meet.
How could I make this well-off American couple understand that Christmas was a gift of prayer and time to be with the extended family to share love and abundant food that was otherwise missing the rest of the year?
Nobody can comprehend that an entire nation can be held hostage for decades and suffer so much in a fight for survival every day to find food we take for granted here, bread, milk, butter, flour, sugar, rice, cooking oil, and needful things such as toilet paper, vitamins, and basic medicines. It is hard to believe when the shelves in America’s grocery stores are brimming with food.
As Oleg Atbashian said in his book, Hotel USSR, after he legally immigrated to the U.S., he cried when he saw the abundance surrounding him, not tears of happiness, mind you, but of anguish for all the unnecessary and cruel pain the proletariat endured for decades at the hands of communist autocrats who enjoyed making the population suffer for many generations through constant shortages of food, long lines, lack of basic necessities like hot water, heat, having to depend on bribes, black markets, kickbacks, and bartering to survive.
An artist, Atbashian entered an art supplies store in Manhattan and wrote, “Rows upon rows of shelves brimmed with products that catered to every artistic need. No gatekeeper was checking permissions, and no Artists Union card was required to make a purchase… After the first floor, I went to the second, and then to the third. And then I imagined how different my life could have been and broke down in tears.”
Americans are so unappreciative of and spoiled by their abundance created through the hard work of many past generations, that they have no idea how other people live or that life can be any other way but good. But this American knows better and my Christmas spirit will always grow inside our Christian home and in my heart.