Thursday, December 24, 2009

Boldog Karácsony - Frohe Weihnachten

As children growing up in Hungary, the big day for us was the 24th. The suspense began early in the day when we discovered that the doors to the living room had been shut tight. Mother had closed the door because Little Jesus and his angles would come during the day—but they wouldn’t stay if anybody saw them. We saw no Christmas trees anywhere in Hungary until Christmas eve. Indeed the festival had no public footprint until the 25th of December. In those days, in my country anyway, no one had heard of wall-to-wall carpeting. We walked on wooden floors. We called them (and wrote the word as) parkette. Carpets were common in appropriate places, to be sure. Without carpets blocking the narrow space, we could see light reaching us from the next room beneath closed doors. Many times that 24th we would tiptoe to the door, get down on the floor, and try to see something. We never did—but we could see the light change as shadows moved silently, ever so silently, beyond the heavy barrier. It was a long day for children; time wouldn’t pass. The nap still had to be taken and was especially burdensome that day. In the early evening we had a big bath; Mother would dress us in our finest. Then came the final excruciating wait in the children’s room. We were waiting for the last angel to depart. That angel always rang a little bell just before passing through the frosted glass of one of the windows headed back to heaven. And we would then rush out. All lights were out—all except candles and sparklers burning on the tall tree. The fierce sparklers burning out, the silent peaceful light of candles at last made it easier to see. We would then discover our own gifts beneath the tree laid out on a white sheet. Gifts came unwrapped in my day in my family, immediate or extended. Such was the universal custom, I think. Brigitte’s experiences as a child of a German family living in Poland mirror mine.

These first impressions never leave us. Christmas for us was a joyous expectation heralded by a visit from St. Nicholas. Like Little Jesus and his angels, so St. Nicholas also came invisibly. On the night before December 6, we put our shined shoes on the window sill. By morning they were filled with candies and cookies, apples, figs, and dates, lots of bright red paper, and birches for our parents to use if we happened to be bad. This set the holiday going. Then came the season of Advent with four candles mounted on a wreath suspended from the ceiling, one candle lit every week until, on Christmas day, all four were on. Silence. The impression was one of joyous expectation, invisible higher beings who came silently to visit, and gifts from on high.

1 comment:

  1. Our memories ofChristmas from childhood do burn brightly and are probably why it is so enjoyable to watch children today experience their formative Christmasses.

    Merry Christmas and see you soon!

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