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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Introducing International Adoptees to Holidays




There is no December 25th in Russia. I mean, the date is there, right after the 24th, and before the 26th. But it’s not Christmas.


When we visit Russia in December and workers in the dyetsky dom (children’s home) are erecting their large, artificial “New Year’s” tree, they decide to quiz us.


“Are you Catholic?”


“Nyet,” we reply.


“When do you celebrate Christmas?” they press.


“December 25th.”


“Then you’re Catholic,” the unofficial Christmas police conclude.


Oh. Never knew that.


Russian Christmas takes place on January 7th, with Russian Christmas Eve naturally occurring on the 6th at night. It’s a religious holiday, and was not celebrated for years during Communist times. Hence, New Year’s is the bigger deal in Russia.


Not to confuse you, they made it simple enough: Russian New Year’s happens on January 1st (or December 31st, same as ours when the clock turns). However, this should not be confused with Old Russian New Year’s which takes place on the evening of January 13th to the turning of the old calendar on January 14th.


Can’t wait to see what else might happen now that this will be a Leap Year!


So Russian Christmas is a different date from ours, Russian New Year’s is the same date, and Old Russian New Year’s is yet another date. This is why most Russian governmental offices are closed basically for the first two weeks of January. But there’s no problem at all with having a court date on December 25th because that’s not a Russian holiday.


With this kind of background, it’s no wonder that the new child arriving to your home has a problem with some of your holiday hoopla, never mind Hanukkah or Kwanzaa.


“What did you do in Russia for New Year’s?”  I ask our kids, fathoming that there was no big ball to drop in snowy Starii Krai’s square.


“We recited poems, sang and danced for guests, and dressed in costumes,” they said.


The costumes spanned everything from pirates to clowns, sort of a Halloween-type of feel to it. Maybe it was the low-budget orphanage answer to the masked holiday ball-?


“Special foods?” I inquire.


“Not really, maybe somebody brought candy to us. Then they gave us a tiny gift like a car or a small stuffed animal while the guests were there. After they left, the gifts were taken away. We never got to keep anything. Or, if we did, it was stolen five minutes later.”


And so, on this blank slate, a family can create meaningful traditions for any holiday. The kids are all ears. They want to know what to do in this new country, and most of all, what to do in this new family. Year after year, the repetition of the familiar is soothing to them, making them feel that sense of belonging, that sense of family.


So, around here, it’s non-stop excitement, beginning with Thanksgiving. The children are flying high with no emotional bottom in sight, helped along with ample amounts of sugars of the season as others slip them cookies and cakes. -Sigh.-  It gets so out of hand at one point that I decide to enlighten them, singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, thinking that they will be suitably impressed with someone other than Mama and Papa seeing them when they’re sleeping, knowing when they’re awake, taking note of every shout and pout.


“Mama, I thought we didn’t believe in Santa Claus,” Sashenka protests.


“Fine, insert ‘God’,” I instruct. Details, details.


One day in school, we discuss the Arctic Circle and I mention that real reindeer live in the environs. They’re surprised that reindeer are not make-believe, so I describe them.


“And they fly, yes, Mama?” Pasha wants to know.


“Um, that would be no.”  So much ground to cover, not in Santa’s sleigh, but in life experience.


We go to an outdoor carolling event, where I hear this odd up-and-down warbling next to me. It’s her, the little one. She claims the vibrato effect, which closely approximates in both sound and appearance someone being electrocuted, helps her to hit the high notes. She knows neither the words nor the melody, but none of that stops her. Held down for years by institutional life, these kids are party people all the way. (Note to self: music lessons in the new year.)


We’ll just keep going strong through mid-January, honoring the traditions old and new, blini, panettone, and eggnog leading the way.





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