Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Friday, December 23, 2011

What would I like for Christmas?

There is a Chinese folk tale about an emperor who wanted a painted panel with two fighting dragons on it — one red, the other yellow, and so well-painted that they looked alive. His courtiers searched through the entire empire for a painter who would be able to paint these dragons. But the painter, once he had listened to the emperor’s orders, asked for three years in which to practice. He reclused himself into a cave in the mountains, where he painted from sunrise to sundown. And when the three years had passed, he went to the palace.
In front of the entire court, he approached the black panel with golden margins, arranged his paints, and selected a brush. He dipped the brush in the yellow paint and drew a line on the canvas. Then, he selected a second brush, and dipped it in the red paint, and drew another line on the canvas. He set his brushes down, turned to the emperor, bowed respectfully with his head to the ground, and offered the panel to the emperor. After a short moment of confusion, the emperor became enraged and ordered that the painter be beheaded and the canvas thrown away.
After some time, a war started, and the emperor had to leave the imperial city with many armies to protect his empire. And it just so happened that he managed to chase the enemy off. Very happy with his success, he started towards home. Being told that the cave of the painter was close by, he wanted to see the other attempts the painter had made at painting the dragons. His servants carried him up the mountain, but at one point it was not possible any more and the emperor had to climb to the cave all by himself. At the mouth of the tall cave was a painting as high as the ceiling. The two dragons spit fire, they twisted, they turned, their scales sparkled, but their eyes were dim.
The emperor walked on, to the next painting, further in the cave. It was a bit smaller, but after the emperor peered at it for a while he realized that this painting, too, was not perfect. And as he kept walking deeper and deeper into the cave, the paintings became smaller and smaller, and less and less detailed, until he reached a painting of two lines -- one red, one yellow. Looking at them, he realized that within those two lines was all the force and fight that he had seen on the walls of the cave. But it was too late for the painter, and the panel was never found.
What would I like for Christmas? Don’t cut me short, but read with patience the next lines, which will explain the following words: 
I want to share and receive.
My first memories of Christmas are of the cleaning. My mother used to boil all the pots and pans; to wash all the clothes, windows, and curtains; to beat the rugs; to scrub the wooden floor with gasoline and then apply wax (our job as children was to buff it). The entire house was cleaned from top to bottom.
When I grew older, I used to spend my winter vacations at my uncle’s farm in Oltenia. I would wake up when the pig had already been sacrificed and was waiting on a bed of straw to be singed. I would walk around it with impatience, bring more straw and sprinkle over it in the hope that the job would be finished faster. When it was done, I’d pour water over the pig so that my uncle would be able to wash the soot of with a fistfull of straw. Once washed, I was allowed to mount the pig to tenderize it. Afterwards, I’d receive a piece of tail or ear to chew on. In this way, I was out from under the adults’ feet, and they could cut the meat. When I reappeared, they’d send me after corn cobs to put in the furnace so that they’d melt the lard, or make me turn the guts inside out with a stick so they could be washed more easily, or pour clean water, or bring a pot, or chase away the chickens that entered the kitchen... I liked to mix and fill the sausages. I’d follow Uncle Patrutz, fascinated as he climbed the ladder and hooked the sausages high above in the chimney, to be smoked. How would they stay there without falling? Would they burn? What if the cat stole them?
The agitation didn’t finish here. The bread and round braids had to be baked. Aunt Rola would send me to the storage building to sieve the flour. Afterwards she would put it in a trough seated on two chairs, would mix the fresh yeast with some sugar (and give me some of it) and knead the bread. She would cover it with a cloth and let it rise. Then she would go to prepare the oven made of adobe and washed with mud. She would take out the cold soot, put in some corn husks, and set them on fire. While I was watching it, she would spread lard on the round pans, cut the dough, knead some more and let it rest on the pan. In the end she will shape it round and flat, prick it with the fork so the crust won’t separate, and brush it with homemade tomato sauce. For me she would make a little dough chicken. By this time the oven would have been hot and with a fork she would break the cinders, and spread them equaly. The pans, on the metal tripods, would be put inside with a long tail fork one by one, and the oven closed with a metal sheet. From time to time she would check the bread. She would take out the little chicken bread for me to eat it. And when it was baked, she would take the bread into the house, turn it over on the table and leave it covered with a clean table cloth to cool. Later she would return and turn it right side up. The round braids were simple, or braided, big or small. They were all in the long hall way, beside apples and nuts and after the priest blessed them, we could give them to the carolers.
From the box of memories now come the ones about the ornaments. Ornamenting the tree is my favorite part. First you put the lights, then the globes. The star goes on the top, and then the other ornaments as you like (we had some shaped as dwarves, pine cones, pickles, apples, mushrooms, bells and a stork), and at the end you put on the tinsel. When we were very small there were sometimes sparkles. To light them was a joy, to feel them cradkling in your hand was a fright — what if you burned yourself?
Carols came later. Of course I’d heard them and sung them, but what it meant to go caroling I understood when I was older. I received this gift from my future husband’s family. They came from three cities, but on Christmas Eve they’d gather around the tree and sing carols which they’d heard at church, or just learned, or those from their childhood.
We moved to the USA and here the Christmas season starts right after Thanksgiving, which means at the end of November. In all this time Americans buy presents, visit, bake cookies, and listen to traditional Christmas songs to the point of saturation. They celebrate Christmas in pajamas opening presents and then eating turkey or a sweet pork roast. The next day the Christmas trees are in the street waiting for the garbage truck.
Time changes us— how happy I was when I saw the presents under the tree when I was little. Now they don’t have to be there for me to be happy. Now, I celebrate the birth of Mesiah.
Where can I find someone to celebrate like we do?
The answer: at church. Each family has their own traditions, but we all celebrate three days of Christmas. We all dress nicely, sing carols, have cabbage rolls and a Christmas cake (either bought or made at home). The parish has become our extended family, and I’m glad that over water and land is a Romanian oasis.
This year we are on the road, and there is no question of family or Christmas tree. There is no question of culinary goodies, or even an Orthodox church, which is hard to find in Asia.
Let me go back to the question of what I want for Christmas.
To share with other people the joy of Jesus’s birth. Christ is born, glorify Him!
To sing Romanian and English carols to them.
To tell them about our traditions.
To participate with them in the holiday.
And through this I will also receive.

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