It’s never far from our minds that we are foreigners in the land of Ukraine. We speak a different language, we eat different foods, we view religion differently, and sometimes we even remember history a bit differently too. But there is no time like the holidays to REALLY feel like a foreigner.
Consider Halloween, the first of the fall holidays. Ukrainians don’t really celebrate Halloween. We don’t see many whole pumpkins in the markets or on the side of the roads. There are no scarecrows around for decoration, only the real ones in the fields outside of the city. There is no Halloween candy or little ghosts or goblins wandering around on the 31st. There are no hay rides, weenie roasts, or bonfires to prepare for fall. And we miss it, most all of the other American missionaries that live in L’viv also miss it. And so we gathered, had a delayed Halloween Party (November 6th), enjoyied great food and a game of Apples to Apples.
Here is a picture of the Halloween festivities. Starting in the back, we have Jay and Cameron who work with Josiah Venture (JV), a para-church mission organization (she was Barack Obama’s birth certificate and he was a BOSS bag – what we all take with us to the market). Then we have Miriam and Thomas, they are also with JV and they came as fanatic football fans. Next there is Karilyn and Dustin who came as salt and pepper shakers. Following them is Kristy as little red riding hood and her husband right in front of her as someone from the Rennesaince era, although we are not exactly sure who. Then there is Marissa and Vitali who are with the Presbyterian Church with their son Leo (Jesse’s best friend); they were from the roaring 20’s. And finally David and I. I was a milk maid but the costume was not nearly as fun without my cow (Jesse) and David was a ‘drag queen’. He dragged Queen Elizabeth around all night.
We also celebrated Thanksgiving which is again not a Ukrainian holiday. We had a little trouble finding a turkey, and there are no yams, french fried onions, cranberry sauce or canned pumpkin in Ukraine. However, these special occasions are worthy opportunities for us to dip into our ‘American’ food stash and share our treasures with others we know will appreciate the hard work, dedication and expense it takes to get these things to Ukraine. David and I ended up hosting the ‘American’ Thanksgiving because the usual hosts, Jay and Cameron, had a case of hand, foot and mouth disease at their house. We had Dustin and Karilyn and their three children (the youngest who discovered Jesse’s diaper pale and decided to play in it), Ben, Kristy and Marissa, Michael, our intern, and Dale. We also had a peace corp friend that Dustin invited. There was no football on tv or in the park, but we did have some great conversation and laughs with our friends.
Next comes Christmas, at least for us westerners. We celebrate on December 25th and the Greek Catholic and Orthodox churches celebrate on January 7th. So again, a little different. Our ‘western’ Christmas this year was highlighted by a visit from David’s parents, and of course, our first Christmas with Jesse. It’s amazing how different a little one can make Christmas feel, even if he doesn’t know what it going on yet. For Christmas, now that we are officially a family (according to David), we decided to come up with some traditions of our own. We ate a simple dinner of fruit and vegetables, cheese and bread. We then read the Christmas story, lit the candle where baby Jesus would be found in the morning and prayed for our friends and family. On Christmas morning we made cinnamon rolls, opened presents and then prepared for a Christmas lunch we hosted. We couldn’t find a turkey, so we went a little non-traditional and really liked it, enough to do it again.
Finally we had New Years, and this holiday was actually close to what we are used to: lots of parties, lots of food and lots of fireworks. We decided to invite Jesse’s play group over for the evening since everyone would have to part ways at about the same time (early). They arrived 5ish, and we had a seven layer dip (minus a layer) and home made chalupas. The babies played while we all sat around and talked and relaxed. Everyone was gone by 9pm. We then watched a movie before David and his parents headed out to the center to see what excitement they could find.
We now await the rest of the Ukrainian holiday season…Christmas, the Old New Year and Jesus’ baptism. This part of the holiday season is the hardest for us. We are ready to get back to work and all of our students have disappeared. But so it is, being a foreigner for the holidays.