the gift of christmas cheer, candy canes, & cavities

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while american christmas has come and gone, ukrainian christmas is just around the corner. so i guess i don’t feel that bad posting my ‘merry christmas from ukraine’ calligraphy doodle now…i could have totally been referring to ukrainian christmas merriment (but i think we all know the truth).

my holiday doodle to you would have probably been posted on time buuuut as karma would have it, santa took away my internet for a few days. normally, it’s not a huge deal — wait, who am i kidding, it’s always a huge deal! though it was even more tragic for it to be out on christmas eve, a day i planned to skype my family, and then christmas morning to boot. that was rather unfortunate. but i kept my hopes up that it might come back on and eventually that night (christmas day) it did. A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE! this year marks the second christmas in a row that i’ve haven’t been home for. but it also means that i’ll be home for the next one, which that idea in and of itself, was enough to get me through the season.

and while i may have been far from home for christmas, i certainly wasn’t alone. i decided to stay at site for christmas, rather than go to a friend’s party — which unfortunately meant upsetting some people and of course going to work on christmas eve and christmas day. but i don’t regret my decision at all. by staying at site i was able to throw the most delightful christmas party for my students, bake cookies (for my english club, co-workers, neighbors, and the kind post-office ladies), and celebrate with site mate, sarah, who was away from family on christmas for the first time.

christmas eve in ukraine was unlike any i’ve celebrated before. for the most part it was like any other day, aside from late night cookie baking to my looped ‘last christmas’ on itunes and a small christmas party at school. i was a little worried when only 5 students decided to stay for the festivities  but they’re my regular english club goers and i knew we’d still have fun. we made christmas cards (and they all addressed them to me! i swear i didn’t put them up to it. merry christmas to myself!), did a word search, ate loads of my christmas cookies, and had a short christmas presentation.

it was in this presentation that i had a photo of candy canes, a christmas delight they lack in ukraine. one of the boys said ‘oooooh wow! i’ve always wanted to try one!’. little did he know i had a small box of mini candy canes sent from my cousin leta that i’d been saving for a year, just for this occasion. at the end of the party, all cookied out and cards wishing me a ‘marry christmas’ were handed to me, i announced that i had a small surprise. i reached into my bag and gave each of the partiers a christmas card from myself and four candy canes. they were so in shock. REAL CANDY CANES!!!! german, the little boy, looked as though he might faint — his wildest dreams came true! as they went home with bellies full of cookies, hands full of candy canes, and smiles of delight, i headed home with the sun setting on the most heart warming christmas eve i’ve ever had.

christmas morning i awoke and discovered a winter wonderland and fresh falling snow, made some coffee, and plugged in my strand of christmas light. i had some time to visit my little ‘christmas tree scene’, comprised of two 5-inch fake trees and some garland and a few small presents from my parents, and finished unwrapping what the ukrainian postal custom workers started for me. it was a delight to open some gifts on christmas. even if it was by myself. even if i already saw what most of them were. but just the tradition of it was nice. i donned on my new, and much needed, wool christmas socks, filled my sac with cookies to share, and like ol saint nick himself, went out into the cold to spread some christmas cheer.

some of my students remembered that it was christmas and said ‘merry christmas!’ to me, but the cutest christmas greeting i got was from the first form. i made my way around, handing out ziplock baggies of cookies to the foreign language teachers, school director, and finally the post office ladies. i wasn’t sure how they’d take the cookies since that morning when i ran some over to my landlady, she didn’t seem so thrilled. she took the bag and said ‘oohhhh…thanks…these uh…will look great on the tree. we’ll see just how nice they look on new years!’  uhhhh, wait, what??  apparently that’s a tradition in ukraine. but, these cookies had no form of hanging, so i think it was an excuse not to eat yet another baked treat i’ve given her. thankfully though, everyone else seemed to get the idea that it was best to eat them.

after school sarah, my site mate and new neighbor, came over for christmas breakfast for dinner. since she just got to site a couple of weeks ago and hadn’t had anything sent to her for christmas, i made just a little ‘functional and tasty’ gift for her. i didn’t have anything to open last year on christmas day, so i know how that feels — it makes christmas away from home all the more distant. so i thought at least it was a little something to open on christmas day.

our christmas breakfast for dinner was epic and delicious. we made the most wonderful french toast with whipped cream from the city and syrup from america!! (i haven’t had this for about a year!!), scrambled eggs with mushrooms, my burnt ukrainian christmas kutya (turned out to be a ‘cultural immersion fail’), and homemade hot mulled wine. oh and chocolate. it was the best food i’ve had in a while, but really i think it’s just sugar in syrup makes you think that. or that it was christmas day and i was with wonderful company watching the muppets christmas carol. either way, it was lovely.

later on when my internet finally started to work, i skyped with my family and aunt who was visiting. the connection wasn’t the greatest and there was a roast to get in the oven, but it was nice to hear from them. i had hoped to skype with my grandma, the one christmas present i really hoped for, but she wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t make it to my parent’s house.

since the kids are all done with testing and it’s their last week before winter break, they literally have nothing to do at school. i sprang on the opportunity to entertain them a little with a christmas movie showing of elf. we set up the projector and screen in the auditorium and had a full house. the russian subtitles i downloaded were a little off — and by a little i mean a lot…as in when jovi was singing in the shower it says she was crying ‘papa! papa!’…yea — but the kids still enjoyed it. how could you not?? it’s will farrel and new york city on christmas. i was so happy to have shared my favorite with them.

the rest of the week was spent preparing for the school new years party. or rather parties since each class has their own party in the gymnasium. new years is a big deal here. so much so that the kids dress up in costumes — they did a better job dressing in costumes for new years than my halloween party. i stayed for the 1st form’s party, which involved 1 hour 15 minutes of me with the biggest smile on my face thinking ‘THEY’RE SO CUUUUTE!’. but really, they’re really cute.

continuing on my streak of being a good volunteer,  i went into school today, even though it was saturday and break had begun. the new years parties continued and teachers rushed to finish all the grading. i dropped of some photo and christmas movie files to share. i was so delightfully surprised when the other english teachers presented with a box of chocolate and kisses on the cheek. they gave me all sorts of compliments about how the students love me, how i haven’t been here long enough, how don’t want me to leave so soon, and how i have the most beautiful smile (are those teeth really yours?).

leaving school, the director stopped to check if i got my chocolates, i reassured her that i had, she also went in for a kiss on the cheek and wished me a happy new year. it was probably the best week i’ve had at school. best week at site. maybe ever in my service as a teacher. it was beyond rewarding to stay and share my abundance of christmas cheer, partake in their new year cheer, consume so many sugary treats, and see such wonderful smiles.

the semester is over and quite frankly i don’t think it could have ended any better. but i’ll say ‘until next year, school!’ as i celebrate the new year with my landlords and later head to romania for five days with a few friends. so here’s to another, and last, semester teaching in ukraine! з Новим роком! happy new year!

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village fun!

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school

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map makers with their certificates of completion

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goofing around in class with the 11th formers. these ‘chewbacca hats’ are traditionally for ladies.

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english club christmas party

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christmas cards

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german and his reaction to receiving first candy cane!! hilarious

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i was a christmas cookie baking machine. i think i made 13 dozen in total.

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christmas day with the 1st formers

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cooking christmas breakfast for dinner with sarah (yes that dinosaur hologram is mine)

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decorating the gym for new years

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i love these boys (and the giant squirrel on the wall)

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new years party for the 1st formers

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the little ‘ukrainka’ is so adorable! and so is the little musketeer that looks like colin firth.

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so many spidermen. and cute ones at that.

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