Sunday, December 6, 2009

St. Nicholas Day – Никулден and Christmas Preparations

December 6th is the name day for St Nicholas here in Bulgaria. Everyone who has a derivative of the name Nicholas ( and there are many of them) celebrated with family and friends on Sunday. It is an accepted belief that St. Nicholas is a miracle worker and the “keeper” of the fishermen. For this reason fish is traditionally served on St. Nicholas Day.

In an attempt to follow customs, we went to the fish market Saturday and bought a live carp. We were warned about how and where we asked for “carp” because the name in Bulgarian can also refer to lazy unemployed people who sit in the café all day. Sooo…..asking for Шарани (sharani) in the café will result in a very different response than asking for it in the fish market! When we got to the fish market cleaned fish were available, but Mike thought he could reach into his memory bank from about forty five years ago and clean the fish himself. It would save him 1 ½ lev and we all know how Mike is driven by saving a buck!! He did not hesitate, and it looks like the memories came back clearly. Our Bulgarian tutor gave us some suggestions as to how to prepare it, either baked, stuffed with mushrooms, walnuts, onions, and a bit of tomato sauce or pan fried in a cornmeal dusting. We actually had the fish Saturday rather than wait for Sunday (thinking if we got sick, we would have a day to recuperate). All turned out well, the fish being very moist and tasty. Although this was our first time to the fish market, there was very little drama associated with it, only a little vocabulary review before going into the market. Guess that means we are integrating!!

On Friday night we strolled home together from Mike’s work place window shopping and enjoying the Christmas lights hung across the pedestrian walk through the city center. There is a large tree outside the government center and a few carnival rides at one end of the walkway with food, candy and trinket booths. Nearby is a stage set up for concerts and performances daily until New Year Day. We can determine what time the performances are but it is not always clear when reading the Bulgarian what we might be seeing. I don’t think it really matters. We’ll try to catch a few performances during the next month, but what we would really like to see is a full choir or the symphony. It has been very difficult to get that kind of information on the net, which has always been our primary source for such things back home. The visitor center sometimes has information, but not for everything going on in the city. We often seem to hear about things after the fact which is frustrating.

We visited several lev (dollar) stores today looking for a little Christmas tree, lights and decorations. We found many scrawny little trees, but settled on one about 1 ½ meters high (big table top size) that we did purchase and set up when we got home. With Christmas music we had downloaded before we left home playing on the computer (hooked up to our donated sound system) it started to feel very familiar. Even though the tree is little and pretty cheesy, it is all much more than we ever expected in the PC. The next week will be spent looking for or making some little decorations. We have not seen anyone selling cut trees on the street corners or vacant lots, so unless this is something that happens in the last week before Christmas, everyone must have an artificial tree if they have one at all. So many apartments are so small it is hard to imagine a full size tree fitting into them. We did start seeing some Chinese imports for Christmas in the stores awhile ago, but in general there is a much lower level of commercialism surrounding the holiday here than in the states.

We are unsure what we will do with our time during the holidays. We are thinking we will spend Christmas right here just the two of us, with time to skype the family and participate in their celebrations. There is a spa resort about 40 minutes from Plovdiv that many have recommended, which might be nice for two nights in the middle of the week followed by a return to Plovdiv for New Year’s Eve. During the 45 years of Communism, Christmas was not a public but rather a private family time, however New Year’s Day is a party time. So our guess (and it is only a guess) is that there will be a lot going on right here for us to enjoy. Many volunteers go back and visit with their host families for at lest part of this time, and although we have considered, we don’t have plans to do that right now.

If we don't connect with you before the holidays, know that you are in our thoughts. We love knowing you are out there participating in our journey from your arm chairs!!! We wish you a Christmas day full of wonderful memory making moments, and peace, good health, and love throughout 2010.

Merry Christmas to All

Lynn & Mike


Andy said...

I'm glad to see the angels found a home on your tree! I hope you find many more colorful ways to enliven your holiday.

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas to you two as well!