This has certainly been one of the strangest holidays I've ever experienced. For once I have people prompting and pushing to get the celebrations done -- usually it's the other way around in my experience. Lord knows this year I'm only half-heartedly into Christmas; I want to be back home with my family. Anyway, we start with the Christmas tree. Last year we cut off the top 1/3 of a tree in the yard and used that -- unfortunately, the top 1/3 of a tree doesnt really grow back (at least not in time for next year?). So we faced a conundrum when trying to figure out what to do, as my family understands that the 12 inch plastic trees that everyone uses here don't make the cut for Christmas (though they suffice for New Year's). So plan C: take the trunk from the top of the tree we used last year, cut off all the dead branches, and attach freshly cut branches from the still-living 2/3 of a tree to said trunk. We have, quite honestly, a Frankenstein's Monster of a tree on our hand. It looks pretty decent, even if a bit off -- I never thought I'd miss the infuriating color-coded branch system of my Grandfather's old plastic tree (measuring up and attaching live branches is a lot more difficult). Nevertheless, it worked out. Next came decorating. There's been no change from last year, so we have the same 20-odd small strands of very different-colored garland, one medium-length string of lights, a handful of ornaments (a good deal of which are the paper ones we made last year), and, of course, a return of the paper star to crown it all. I did the majority of the tree decorations, so the tree was pretty much all done by me. We also have a new addition to the room this year -- take colored streamer-type strings, a wad of cotton ('cause it looks like there aren't any cotton balls here), wet the cotton, stick the string to it, then fling it to the ceiling. Basically: a glorified spitball.
Our Christmas celebration went ok. There were some extra people staying around the house, so that was awkward to deal with, but all-in-all things were smooth. Santa came again and my family enjoyed their presents, though not all of his presents arrived for Christmas (so some were distributed at New Year’s, though there’s a little bit more on the way too it seems).
For my host family and for the volunteer get-together I made a billion cookies. Ok, not a billion, but ~300 or so. The fare? Gingerbread cookies and standard red/green sugar cookies. Of course, due to a lack of cookie cutters, I had to do everything with a knife – it was a lot of work – but I think things turned out decorative enough. My big project for the volunteers was making personalized gingerbread-people for everyone in the oblast, so 17 gingerbread men/women that had something unique to them. Quite a task! But I made it work, and thanks to a big bag of powdered sugar (that’s all gone now) I was able to frost them up nice!
Both celebrations were fairly relaxed. On Christmas day I celebrated with my family, opened presents, had some lunch, then came into the city to make more cookies. On the 26th I got together with the other volunteers and had some very good food, and we sang some carols and just hung out. I was awarded volunteer of the month at this event, which was surprising. Afterward I just went back to my village as most of the other volunteers went off to visit other places.
Right now I’m sitting on my hands, trying to prepare for the Talas Summer Camp (I’ve been recruited to be the director this year) and getting some needed R&R. New Year’s was a calm celebration, I made a velvet cake and some frosting because I don’t like the Russian store-bought cakes – they taste like cardboard. So all in all not too much is going on! Hopefully I get a good battery recharge during this break.