Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Kharkiv, Freedom Square. 2012.
Kharkiv, train station. 2013.
Portland, Pioneer Square. 2014.

Although these trees all look similar, it's a different feeling to be preparing for the holidays this year.

This year there will be a brief flash of activity on Dec 24th and 25th before regular life resumes, instead of solid weeks of celebrating and feasting. It'll be eggnog instead of champagne. Fake snow in storefront windows instead of real snow piled up outside them. (Gotta admit, that's a pleasant change.) This year I'll be working on New Year's Eve.

All the pine and sugar cookie scented candles, all the whimsical rolls of wrapping paper at the grocery store, all the Christmas lights in windows, don't make up for the fact that when I talked to my neighbor the other day, he casually dropped the words "this is the worst time of year." It's true we were talking about getting together for pizza and he meant that this is the worst time of year for meeting up, but in a way it really could be the worst time of the year. The expectation is that it's the most wonderful time of the year, of course, but unlike Ukraine the focus is more on shopping than seeing friends. Trending articles of the moment have titles like "7 Easy Mays to manage Holiday Anxiety!" and "4 Restorative Yoga Poses to Soothe Holiday Stress". And have you heard this song yet?

I think the biggest problem is the lack of time. In America we decorate more, buy more, mail holiday cards, wrap more, and yet the only time we take off work is... 3 days. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. In this phone survey of 786 adults, 56% reported work stress as the greatest source of stress during this time. In Ukraine the work load is slowing down right now. At my old English school, students and teachers are wrapping up classes and preparing for a long break. At D's old work, the whiskey in the break room starts making the rounds at 2 PM rather than 4 PM. Instead of a mad push to finish up everything in time, this month is a cool down of societal machinery. Then comes January and its one-to-two weeks of freedom for many. (D says this isn't always time off work, but rather time at work spent not working.)

I wish the U.S. were also able to treat the holidays like that. This year is the first year I've ever had a job that offers paid holidays, but instead of a blessing, it's a frustration. The work load doesn't go down, but the hours available in which to do the work do. And we're in the middle of the quarter now thus lessons continue both Christmas and New Year's weeks. Most of the students are Cuban and Mexican, so it'll be interesting to see whether they attend class those weeks. There's a single Ukrainian student and I'm betting the New Year's Eve class won't be able to tempt that particular student away from the night's celebration : ) New Year's is The Big Holiday in Ukraine (followed by Orthodox Christmas on Jan 7th).

Holiday candies from D's family

D's mom has made it clear that she expects a visit. "I don't really care about the twenty-fifth. Come for New Year's." Unfortunately New Year's is nothing here, more of an afterthought. D gets Dec 31st and 1st off. I get the 1st off. Is that enough time to travel to Seattle, drink the usual Ukrainian holiday toast, and get back to work?

#UglySweaterPDX is happening downtown right now

Speaking of work, I'd better get a move on. If you've got awesome holiday time management skills and another 5 minutes for reading, here are my three best posts about the holidays over the past few years ; )

January 15th, 2012: Ukrainian New Year in Simferopol. After which no one needed to eat again for five months.

December 18th, 2013: The Holidays are Coming! The decorating begins.

January 7th, 2014: Merry (Orthodox) Christmas! A wander through Freedom Square.

Bonus post: The First-Irish German Eskimo in Berlin- Ex-Linda-in-Latvia's take on Christmas in Germany.


  1. #yarnbombing image re-posted: RE

    1. So there's a word for it? Pretty funny :p

      Thanks for the share, Rupert!

  2. I totally agree with you! The winter holidays are SUCH a build-up in the US but... for what?! Not that I totally love an entire country shut down for several weeks, but hey, a long holiday is awesome.

    1. Hope you and the муж enjoy the holidays over there this year, Polly : ) Have an extra shot for me!