A merry Christmas to you all from Clan Arthur! Christmas season is still in full blast in Poland. The entire country shuts down from about 2:00pm on Christmas Eve until the 27th of December and everyone celebrates the first and second days of Christmas. This does my historian heart good since most people I know (and most every media outlet I can think of) believe December 25th is the 12th day of Christmas. It’s the first and continues until Epiphany on January 6th. The Christmas season here, depending on who you ask, can even extend well past January. Many Poles set up their trees on Christmas Eve and there are those who swear it should stay up until early February for the Feast of Christ’s Presentation at the Temple.
Even before Christmas Eve, though, Christmas is in the air. Czestochowa has, like many European towns, a Christmas market. While some markets last weeks, Chestochowa’s is open for five days – the 16th – 20th. Becky, PK and I decided to make the most of it. We went three of the five days; sometimes to just walk down the strip of little stalls and sometimes to see if anything tickled our fancy. Our first night Saint Nicholas, in full bishopric regalia, was wandering around and he said a blessing over PK and then gave Becky some candy. I tried taking a picture but a family who spied the Saint came rushing up, I got jostled and the picture was blurred.
The stalls were selling wonderful mulled wine that helped take the edge off of cold. I bought some poppyseed cake (a Christmas tradition here. I’ve been assured poppyseed brings good luck, so I better eat my way through the whole loaf). Our favorite purchase, though, was oscypek (oh-sip-ek). This is a brined and smoked sheep’s cheese that is pressed into decorative shapes. It’s a favorite thing to have at Christmas markets in Poland and the best way to have it is grilled over a fire. Becky, PK and I all tried some and it got universal praise. Unfortunately, the next day that we went back, mouths watering for the salty, smokey, squeaky goodness, was the last day and the stalls selling it had already closed. We did get a kick out of seeing carp for sale at the market. We know it’s traditional for Christmas Eve dinner and that some families keep said carp alive in their bathtub for a few days before the meal, but the carp didn’t seem to thrilled with the idea. Several days later, we passed a fishmonger’s shop and the line to buy already butchered carp was out the door!
Before the country shut down for nearly three days, the crew all made a trip to the shopping center across town to stock up on supplies. There is no way that we could have pulled off a full Polish Christmas Eve dinner in our flat. It involves twelve dishes (one for each apostle), is meatless (so, I’m out because fish and I don’t get along), and involves several baked goods (which would kill Becky with her wheat allergy). Deciding to embrace the Polish spirit, we did buy what we needed to make barszcz (a beet based soup better known as borscht in the States), however, it was a different kind that the Christmas Eve tradition of plain soup with small, tortellini like dumplings called uski. We also tried making kompot, which is a type of fruit punch but the dried fruit we bought to make it ended up being mostly prunes. In the interest of self-preservation, we decided not to drink it which wasn’t a big sacrifice because the taste was off. I wouldn’t mind trying again…later…when I can read packages with ease.
Christmas was…uneventful in many ways. Honestly, guys, it’s hard being isolated by language, unable bring presents because of your luggage weight restrictions and knowing you are a continent away from family. A cranky two-year-old doesn’t help much either, although, she was a trooper through Skype calls with family. Mommy and Daddy did manage to surprise her with a stuffed chicken she picked out in the store and promptly forgot about and a Paw Patrol Weeble (who knew they still made Weebles?) and the nuns had given us a bag of small presents before we left the orphanage. I had a couple of gifts during the course of the day. First, was the fact that PK and I have developed a morning ritual of cuddling, watching TV, having breakfast and looking out the window. It’s been nice these past few mornings but on Christmas it felt a little magical – she’s my gift and this Christmas might not have been much but it’s the first of many, many more.
The second gift was that my sister told us during a Skype call that she had been working on something for us. She’s been painting peg dolls (they’re awesome) and had been commissioned by a wonderful, though anonymous, lady who has been following the blog to paint a peg version of our family. When this lady was little, she lived in Japan for a few years and the family had wooden versions of the children painted and given to their grandparents. When her grandparents died, she received the dolls and because they mean a lot to her, she wanted PK to have a set of her family. Since I don’t know who our sweet benefactor is, let me just express my thanks here. Becky and I love them and we know PK will love them when she realizes they aren’t just a picture. It is so sweet of you to think of us in this special way and it really was a bright spot in our day.
PK decided to give us a run for our money going to bed last night. We eventually got her down after what was at least 45 minutes of different tactics. It was rough on everyone. Eventually, she went down and everyone had a good night’s sleep, which does wonders for attitudes. We woke up this morning and had a good day and decided to head out of the apartment. It wasn’t until we were walking up the Avenue to see a few nativity scenes that I realized just how much being in the apartment for 48 hours straight had been getting to me. The wind on our face perked us up even more and PK happily chirped to anyone who would listen as we walked. She has gotten very good at loudly saying “Bye-bye!” to anyone we pass and has an amazing radar for dogs, better known to her as “How-hows.” When she sees one she leans out of her Tula to get a better view and does her best how-how to try to get their attention (although, we passed a greyhound on the street once which was all bundled up for the weather and that failed to register as a dog to her).
When we got to the square, we saw our first nativity, which featured some very scary angels and the Mary mannequin might need to see a doctor about a very messed-up hand. We then decided to head to the monastery to see their nativity and found ourselves caught up in a large crowd. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that we must be heading there in time for one of the St. Stephen’s Day masses. While Mommy and Daddy tried to blend into the crowd, PK decided to say good-bye to people we passed or babble loudly in what was a fairly quiet and reverent procession. I sense a theatrical streak. The monastery was so busy, we quickly went to the nativity in the courtyard, snapped a picture, looked at the tree decorated by the other orphanage in town and headed back home.
I found myself scanning the crowds as we walked tonight. I do it on occasion here but the urge was strong tonight. You see, PK’s biological mom lives in the same town. Her story is PK’s story and will eventually be PK’s to share if she wants to. Just know that Becky and I have a massive amount of respect for this woman we have never met and wish her every happiness in her life. Walking in a sea of faces, I tend to wonder if that lady I accidentally bumped into might be her. Or perhaps that woman who is having a very animated phone call. A part of me hopes that in the hustle and bustle of a city street, our eyes might meet for just a moment, maybe PK would babble something cute and that sound from a little child might bring a smile to her face and we would, unknowingly, have a connection to the person who gave us the greatest gift we could hope to have. I suppose, though, I will have to be content with the idea it could happen just like I imagine, get into some comfy sleep pants and get ready to stealthily enter our room and try to jump into bed without waking the little one.