Christmas Time in Eigenfeld
Weihnachtszeit in Eigenfeld
Goslin, Marta. "Christmas Time in Eigenfeld." Volk auf dem Weg, January 2004, 30.
Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog, Boulder,
Even during Advent it hardly got light outside. The sky was gray,
completely overcast. To avoid the penetrating, icy wind, animals
and plants had already retreated, sleeping somewhere, secretively.
Snow storms were arriving and sweeping over the steppe. When people
dared to go out, they were wrapped in so many clothes that they
looked like snowmen. Freezing breath settled around the nose and
the mouth. In the kind of weather you wouldn't make your dog go
out in, Ivan had to harness the horses in order to drive Papa to
his religious classes and us kids to school. [Papa appears to be
a minister. Tr.]
Chrysanthemums were blooming in the hothouse. I begged to be allowed
to take a few blossoms for Miss Mary. Those sensitive hothouse flowers
reminded me of the song "Lo, how a rose e'er blooming."
Beaming while standing amidst snow and ice, I handed those miracle
blooms to Miss Mary, but her thoughts must have been who knows where;
she merely twirled the blooms carelessly in her fingers. I felt
hurt by that.
At home, Mama and my siblings also seemed lost in thought while
moving about. They probably had Christmas notions on their minds.
It was the custom that every person was to be given one thoughtfully
Silently I slid into Papa's study. He was always sitting in there
and working, looking pale and tired. It took some courage to disturb
him, but he appeared very pleased with my brief visit, sat me down
on his knee, dug around in his desk drawer and came up with several
illustrated biblical passages for me. Blissfully, I ran off and
shelled a small plate full of sunflowers for him. I knew that he
Just before Christmas the weather suddenly changed. Instead of snow
showers, there was blue sky over the steppe that was shining with
glowing crystals and a blindingly white snow-cover. But it got even
colder. Wondrous ice flowers had formed on window panes, competing
with the freshly cut flowers Mama had placed on a layer of cotton
balls on the sill of the double window. And, oh, what wonderfully
delicious smells there were in the house, since for days now cookies
had been baking. We had been allowed to help with that work.
Mama traveled to Melitopol for do her shopping for Christmas. From
an Armenian merchant she bought things that would certainly delight
Papa and us: black pressed caviar, a wooden box with chalva, dried
fish, black olives in oil, wonderful sweets with names such as "lady
fingers" or "crab tails," as well as nuts, almonds,
oranges, figs, and dates.
By Christmas, small gifts for a few poor families had been packed,
ready to be distributed. Thamar and I were responsible for taking
them to the poor part of the city, Perkut. We loved doing it. There
were very few families who were really poor, but all of the children
were happy. We gladly played with them and got presents from them.
Those cookies, apples, and whatever else we found in a small basket
tasted really good.
Papa had once again been successful in locating a short-needled
fur tree, not an easy feat in those days prior to the First World
War. It was possible to find spruce trees in South Ukraine, but
no fir trees. But for Mama a Christmas without a real fir tree was
no Christmas at all. So Papa would write to places everywhere before
he was able to get them.
Mama was hurrying in and out. For a while we were not allowed yet
to enter the room with the tree, but we diligently practiced the
Christmas poems we were to recite, for no one wished to get stuck.
In the evening we all went to church together. Lyusa, with a lamp,
went ahead -- of course, it had become dark very early. No one spoke
on the walk to church. Everything was very solemn. Mama, sitting
at the organ, had practiced an especially beautiful prelude that
was to accompany Papa to the altar. And then came the chorale, joined
in by the entire community.
After our return home, the tension was at a boiling point. Finally,
we heard the small bell calling for us to come. Both doors to the
large room swung open, and the tree was aglitter with bright lights.
Our parents were awaiting us children, and also all those people
who were close to us: Lyusa, Rosa, Roslaie, Ivan. Papa made a solemn
speech, we recited our poems, and all sang together, accompanied
by Mama on the piano. And then came the presents for everybody --
useful, beautiful, and sweet ones. There was always a book, and
Mama also got her "Bazaar," a favorite women's periodical.
But one day Papa suddenly canceled the subscription to "Bazaar,"
saying that the novels in it might not make an appropriate impression
for Mama, and from then on I received the "Young Friend"
periodical. All were happy and enjoyed the Christmas goose, the
Crimean wine, and all the visiting during the days following.
Our Russian neighbors did not celebrate Christmas in the major manner
we did, and their children did not have a longer Christmas vacation,
either. They were concentrating more on enjoying New Year's, which
they greeted loudly and vehemently with the words, "Na zdorovye!"
To a healthy new Year!
My favorite feast was that of the Three Kings, when the Russians
staged their own great celebration. During that day, students from
an Orthodox seminar would parade around, singing and holding a huge
star they had made of silk paper. Mama, too, was inspired by these
boys and quickly filled their linen bags to the top. The colorful
star was a reminder of Easter. How quickly the year passes!
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation
of this article.