December 25, 2008


Cliche Advisory: The following blog post contains phrases such as "the greatest gift of all," "the season of giving," "it's the most wonderful time of the year" and "tis the season."

This time last year, Jillian and I were quite amused at our situation: a normal day of work. We had arrived to our town only ten days previous and were still in the early stages of finding our way around and getting to know our schools. I distinctly remember I was sitting in the teacher's room between classes when the cell phone rang--it was Jillian's sister Alex in New York, calling to wish us a merry Christmas. Wow, it certainly didn't feel like the holidays. No decorations in the windows of houses, no Mariah Carey Christmas collection on repeat in the stores, no Salvation Army bells. But I guess that made it easier for us; since it didn't really feel like the most wonderful time of the year, we didn't miss it so much.

Today, one year later, I was back at the high school. Today, one year later, Alex played a significant part in my Christmas. That's where the similarities really end--while last year was newness and confusions, this year proved to be one of the most satisfying holidays I can remember. Jillian and I spent this morning at the Roma kindergarten and, thanks in large part to Alex and Jillian's mom, these less fortunate kids had a really great Christmas. [I should add here that Christmas in Macedonia is celebrated according to the Orthodox calendar on January 7, but the kindergarten's director, Safet, insisted that we have a "western" holiday.]

The morning began with the little ones watching a video of Santa's visit last year. They loved it. By the way, in Macedonia Santa goes by the name Dedo Mraz, or literally, Grandfather Ice, and he comes on New Year's Eve, not Christmas (this came about as a way to get around communism's unofficial ban on Christmas). Anyway, the toddlers are getting very excited about Santa's impending trip to their town--this building euphoria is particularly sweet and sad amongst these children, some of whom don't own a single toy (wow, it's hard for me to even type that). Safet made some passing remarks today about his wanting me to serve in the role of Santa this year, but I tend to believe that any Santa worth his salt should have a BMI above 20. Good lord, I need to find someone else, lest these kids think Santa has one hell of tape worm.

Santa may be a few days off, but today proved that Christmas can truly be the season of giving. Jillian's sister and mom mailed 24 brand new winter coats, along with some hats and mittens and they arrived just in time. Along with some donated clothes and stuffed animals that Safet had at the center, we were able to give each child a really nice package today. The coats fit perfectly and the little ones looked absolutely adorable in their new, warm digs. Honestly, the kids really loved the stuffed animal and chocolate bar that came in their package, but their parents sure appreciated the coats and clothing.

Later at the high school, the teachers all wished me a merry Christmas and asked if Jillian and I would be celebrating tonight. Turns out we just ate a pizza and drank some Serbian beer, Jelen (pronounced "yellin'"). But who needs a traditional Christmas when you can sit back and bask in the afterglow of making some sweet little kids happy. 'Tis the season.

**Read more about the Roma of Eastern Europe in this article from The Economist

With Aileen and Daryan

Jillian with Feadora and her new stuff

Nafia just loved her new coat...she gave Jillian a big kiss

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just melting - what beautiful children!