Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Celebrating New Year 2011 in Crimea

Lenura with some of the New Year's feast she prepared (I made nori rolls).
English Club at the Krumchak Museum.
With Refika and Nadjie at the library.
The Christmas celebration with the volunteers (and one Ukrainian--guess who?)
A typical PCV scene.
Tuesday morning at the library—seems like I often begin my posts this way. It is a snowy morning and our first day back to work after the New Year holiday weekend. This week, too, is a short work week, as Friday January 7th is the Orthodox Christian Christmas, and the library will be closed because it is a national holiday (no separation of church and state here!). However, almost no one I know celebrates it, or at least the people I am in direct contact with don’t. When I inquired this morning at our English class whether or not to have the English Club Thursday night (which would be Christmas Eve in the American Christmas tradition), everyone said sure, why not? I do think there are a few Christians in the group, but mostly everyone is either Muslim or Jewish, and maybe even the Christians don’t celebrate Christmas. We’ll see who shows up…
Anyhow, I have started a few blog posts in the last week or so, but they have all been a bit dismal, concerned with my ongoing battle with language (oh no, not that topic again!) and not feeling physically great. But I decided to put them away and write a more positive blog about all the New Year celebrating that went on last weekend. Or at least my part in the celebrating. Which started with my English Club last Thursday evening. We had decided at the previous meeting to have a little celebration and try to sing holiday songs in English! So I made them song books (Jingle Bells, Deck the Halls, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, etc) and bought some candy. Unfortunately, most of the participants from the Gasprinskiy Library couldn’t come for various reasons, so just Zarema and I walked over to the Krymchak museum after work. And to our surprise, the women at the museum had laid out a whole spread of food, complete with wine for the traditional toasting. We had a great time: eating, toasting, trying to sing the songs, and listening to Nina (director of the museum) play the piano and sing her own compositions in her rich alto voice. And at some point, going on a tour of the small museum, which I had seen before, but was happy to see again and understand more about who the Krymchak people are.
The next day, Friday, was Dec. 31st. Usually I don’t go into the library on Fridays, but Nadjie asked me to come because they would be having their annual New Year celebration, which I didn’t get to attend last year because of being at the Children’s Library on that day. I definitely wanted to celebrate at Gasprinskiy this year, so was happy to oblige her request. We all gathered in the reading hall for champagne and candy and many toasts. A man I see around here a lot but who isn’t on the staff—not quite sure what his role is here—got up and sang Crimean Tatar songs in a powerful operatic voice. I think he might be retired now, but clearly at some point in his life, he was a professional singer. Afterwards, the director gave each of us a present—mostly a bottle of champagne—and people got up and said a few words. When I got up, the director of the library asked me to sing an English holiday song for them—yikes!! But, I rallied and managed a rendition of Auld Lang Syne, and hoped all would forgive my off key singing.
I spent that evening—New Year’s Eve-- over at the Seytaptiev’s. Unlike the holiday in America, New Year’s Eve is more of a time to spend with the family, much like Christmas in America, with a big traditional meal, presents, a Christmas tree, and then combined with a New Year celebration of champagne toasts and fireworks at midnight. Oh, and the president always comes on TV at midnight to give a welcoming speech for the New Year! There was much laughter at the Seytaptiev’s this year as they watched the new president, because he only spoke for about 5 minutes, whereas in the past the president usually delivered at least a 15 minute speech. They attributed his short speech to the fact that he barely speaks Ukrainian, the national language, and 5 minutes was the most he could muster. But he did remind everyone that 2011 is the 20th anniversary of the founding of the independent country of Ukraine, despite the ancientness of the land. (Kyiv, the capital, was founded in 1000 AD).
I have heard a couple of versions as to why New Year’s is such a big holiday here, both to do with restrictions under the Soviet Union. One explanation is that all other holidays were political events, so people went all out for a holiday that didn’t represent the end of the war, the workers revolution, etc. Also, religious celebrations were banned, so New Year’s took the place of what would be a Christmas celebration. But whatever the reason, it is firmly established as the big holiday in Ukraine.
A couple of more celebrations followed New Year’s Eve—eating a big dinner with Maiye and Server the next day, a lunch with my tutor and her husband on Monday where Givi (the husband) made the lunch, including a famous Georgian dish composed of chicken, garlic, walnut paste, and cilantro (he’s from Georgia). Champagne toasts accompanied all the meals, but I did at least avoid the vodka toasts!
I almost forgot my American Christmas. I celebrated it with twelve other Peace Corps Volunteers in a PCV’s large apartment in a village a 2-hour bus ride from here. Turkey dinner, stockings with candy and oranges, little white elephant gifts, and some champagne toasting too! It was fun, and I am glad I went and was especially glad to spend some time with my few PCV friends here in Crimea.
Well, I think that is it for my holiday saga. I long to be off in the forest somewhere, or talking with Serdar about the new adventures in his life, or just lying at home finishing a book I have recently gotten absorbed in, but I am here, “at work,” and will try to get something at least somewhat productive done. Happy New Year to all my friends back in America from your pal in the Crimea.

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