Sunday, December 02, 2007

Christmas at the Zamek and elsewhere!

For this Holiday issue I polled four young women who have spent at least two holiday periods at the Zamek and consolidated their responses.

That first Christmas at the Zamek I remember buying that live carp and seeing it swim around in the bathtub. I decided a shower was out of the question, not wanting to share with the carp.

We welcomed real live carolers in costume into our home! For the first time we heard “Nasam va noviny” sung as a real song by people who spoke the language, not just phonetically learned as we had years before for a Christmas surprise for my father.

I was determined to wear a skirt to Christmas Eve Mass. Because the church would be frigid, I layered long johns, slacks, and two skirts under my coat.

We’d lived for many years in a warm climate: experiences common to many people were very special to us – the smell of the real Christmas tree, seeing the snow fall, hearing the quiet of a moonlit snowy night. Our tree had chocolate ornaments wrapped in foil, as our grandmother’s had had years before. It was great to live finally in a place where we were not admonished by worried Americans about real candles on the tree.

Traditions we’d grown up with fit well into our new life: an early evening seafood supper, candle-lit tree and carols when Baby Jesus came, passing caramel nut triangle cookies and pouring wine or hot cocoa after opening gifts. On Christmas morning we had stockings with clementines, had a Christmas dinner, and read each other’s new books.

It was a surprise to get a block of lard as a gift from another family.

The weather was freezing, the frozen roads terrifying. But I loved going for a quiet walk alone in snowy woods, the snow crunching underfoot, cheeks cold. I took the dog Meddy for two hour hikes, watched him chase deer and hoped he’d come back. There was the smell of coal burning in village stoves.

Boxing Day is not an American holiday, but we did celebrate it with another family for many years. As an adult I have been able to celebrate Boxing Day several years with this same family, a heart-warming time.

We were invited to a ball after Christmas. Driving home from that ball I had a few pheasants on my lap. We had won the raffle!

New Years always means getting a phone call from someone in another country/time zone, who has already welcomed the New Year. There’s some sadness in goodbyes to friends returning to school and college. We spent our first New Years here at neighbors in the village. Around the room, each person told his wishes for the coming year, and my dad translated. Other years we walked through Prague on New Year’s Eve, and drank hot mulled red wine in a little vinarna near the Vltava.

What if I am not in the Czech Republic? One year in the USA a Slovak exchange student was with us. He decorated the Christmas tree very precisely, unlike I do myself. He also phoned his mother in Slovakia to get her recipe for homemade mayonnaise. But when his parents’ gift package had arrived weeks earlier, he immediately opened every last gift! I didn’t realize a 16 year old would do that!

Often we are with a friend’s family. Our friend’s father likes perfecting new recipes. One year we had lobster bisque made with frozen broth from a lobster dinner the previous summer! Another time he made beef Wellington. The whole family’s skill at handicrafts dominates the gift exchange – socks and scarves, pieces of furniture, hand-woven pots.

So, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, whether much or little, I advise you to do it with heart!