Wednesday, December 22, 2010



Yankee Swap.  The concept of this gift exchange is foreign to many Americans and the rules and details are discussed annually at our family Christmas gatherings. We thought it a fun way to share some of our traditions with our Bulgarian friends.  The gifts they brought clearly reflected their understanding of the “swap”.

The gift I chose from under the tree and was left with at the end of the evening was a leather purse “чанта/ chanta” in Bulgarian. It is an absolutely essential part of a woman’s life and for the most part the bigger the better. I could do a whole blog on Чанти, but not now.

Krum fessed up and said it had been in his house for years. It was obvious it was a vintage piece, and very well made especially compared to what is bought today. The leather was rich but not yet supple as it was clear it had barely been used. I accepted it graciously, knowing I would never use it and would have to find a home for it upon departure along with many many other things that are part of our daily lives.

Ah, but without knowledge, one can not have appreciation. Two days latter, Vesse our Bulgarian friend and language tutor was here for a lesson. As part of our lesson, we usually have to tell her in Bulgarian what has happened to us during the week. The party details took forever to recount, and of course when we tried to explain the Yankee Swap, there were numerous questions.  We showed Vessse our gifts and her eyes lit up when she saw my purse.  She has one (bigger than mine) as a keepsake of her mother.

During Communist times, being a teacher was a prestigious position. Only teachers had purses like this. They were not used daily but brought out and slung over the shoulder for special occasions, school celebrations and holidays. The women paraded with their students as part of the festivities, and each had these distinct bags that set them apart as “teachers”.  Vesse’s mother and grandmother were teachers as is Vesse. She was encouraged by both to study hard so she could become a teacher.  I’ve met Krum’s mother Irene (my mother’s name as well). She is a teacher, one of my favorite kinds: a kindergarten teacher. This had been her bag when her work was held in high esteem, unlike today.

So it seems appropriate that I should come away with this purse. Instead of trying to find a home for it here in Bulgaria, I will bring it home with me and hang it upon the wall with the many other mementos from previous generations of my own family. It has come alive with this story and worth preserving and sharing.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had lived in Abu Dhabi before moving here and my husband bought for me a 'Jimmy Choo' bag,(not sure if it was real because of the price but it was genuine leather) it was tan colour a simple yet fashionably looking bag. Though as I had two children under the age of 3 at the time it was ideal for me to have such a large bag; nappies; bottles; toys; wet wipes; etc. One day a lady from our village came to say hello, then when she saw my bag, her eyes grew bigger as she began to stare at my bag and she gestured that she wanted it. I clung on and said no and patted my chest to say 'mine'. I could see her disapointment. Your story perhaps explains why, now.