Posts Tagged tradition

Yet just another Bank Holiday

If it wasn’t for the radio yesterday, I wouldn’t have realised it was St. George Day. And thanks to my favourite morning show, I found out St. George is the patron saint of England and his celebration day, National Day of the country. You can see my family name is George as well, and I find this to be a funny coincidence, me having moved to this country.
The fact didn’t come as a surprise. Thinking of his knightly figure, fighting and defeating the dragon, it feels only natural that he became the emblem of England. On the other hand though, the real story of this Christian saint seems to say that his faith was so strong that he gave up his life as a Roman soldier, with all the privileges that came with it, and risked facing the consequences of practising a faith considered dangerous or unacceptable in his times. It’s a life story of passion, dedication and humility.
The roots of the name though are Greek, meaning “the one who works the land”. Georgos is derived from ge = earth and ergon = work.

I can say I celebrated my family name day, England National Day and the patron saint of the church where my father serves as a priest (another happy coincidence) by holy and sacred work search. Not that I mind.
What I haven’t celebrated properly is Easter.

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Easter Sunday roast, on 2008, with my foster brothers, over dad’s shoulder

While Christmas became such an overwhelming holiday in the whole of the Western world, prone to criticism that it’s more of a commercial happening, a rush to buy, overeat and stress about decorating your house, cooking, organising parties and families getting together, Easter seems to be more of a quiet one. For people who don’t practice the Christian faith or just do it as a family tradition, Easter might not make a lot of sense anyway. Jesus’s story is impressive, for many it might be just fiction, some might not be interested at all, or practice other religions or religious beliefs.
I don’t know so much about how Easter is celebrated in the UK, but some things seem obvious: lamb roast, family meals, chocolate eggs, and chocolate egg hunts or other activities for the kiddies. For me, as a Romanian living in the UK, Easter is something I’ve lost when moving here, but I intend to take it back starting next year.

In Romania, as a country with a population still quite attached to the old Christian Orthodox rituals and traditions, Easter is as much a celebrated and well prepared holiday as Christmas. Respecting a set of rituals and doing things in a certain manner, every year, gives a sense of continuity, builds a feeling of community and meaningfulness.
To fast prior to a sacred day means to prepare yourself by abstaining from the consumption of certain foods, which can only have the psychological effect of enjoying everything even more when the time comes. It’s worth to mention that consumption of more vegetables, while pushing aside meaty and dairy products, is a great way of purifying your body of toxins. Well, it used to be, as people in old times wouldn’t have so much veggies available over winter and had to rely on meat and flour, plus potatoes for the season.

In the week of Christ’s Passions, starting Thursday evening, church services commemorate what happened each day before He was crucified. People go to church for the evening, then next day they start making preparations for the celebration. Friday and Saturday are mostly baking days, preparing the base for the cakes, making cookies, getting the meat ready to be roasted, and dying the eggs.
Talking to mum the Saturday before Easter she told me while she was boiling the 50 eggs to be coloured later she thought of me, as this used to be my preferred task since childhood.

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Making red eggs for Easter, in 2008, and wearing my mum’s fleece coat, hahaha!

There is another tradition quite dear to me and meaningful, if you think of it. On Easter Sunday people would go and visit relatives, taking with them a gift of sweet bread, red eggs, and cake/cookies, to share. They would stay over for a chat, a drink and a snack, then take home the gift their relatives gave in return. Next thing, they would take another pack of treats from home and go to other close relatives. So they could spend the whole day visiting, chatting, having treats, and getting together with grandparents, cousins, uncles, which also strengthened family bonds and the feeling of community.

A story told and retold in our family involves my father’s second cousin, who used to be a very funny boy, well-loved for his humour, but also quite cheeky at times. After church and Easter roast dinner, he was sent by his nan (they all lived in the family house) to one of his uncle’s family with the packed treats. He left and then she waited for him to get back home bringing the sweet bread, red eggs and cake from uncle’s. And she waited. And she waited. Four hours later she was fuming, when he finally got home.
– What were you thinking, boy? Do you know what time it is? How on Earth are you going to get over to your other uncles now, when it’s so late in the day?
– Nan, don’t worry, I’ve already been to all of them.
The poor old lady’s face must’ve turned ripe tomato red. It was such a shame, unimaginable. The gift from others in the family must always be brought home, where you would have your packed treats cooked and prepared in your house, to be taken to the next relatives. They would probably know what came from whom. So that year nan had to apologise to many in the family for her grandson’s cunny way of sorting out things with less effort, sparing him to go back home every time.

Now reading about this one could ask: right, but if everybody visited everybody, what if you found nobody at home? No, it wasn’t chaotic, everybody took turns, some would wait for visits this year, while returning them the next. It was a cycle that had to be completed, and as we know, completing a cycle gives us a feeling of fulfilment, of security and of belonging.

All of these add to the feeling of a sacred time, of valuing people’s efforts and participation, as well as giving meaning to things beyond just stuffing one’s stomach with food and drink, and mind with entertainment. There are many other rituals and traditions, depending on the part of the country. Some of them involved young people getting together so that young men and women could meet, get a chance to chat and know each other, as a first step towards marriage and new families. But all of it meant they would get involved, organise and, above all, do things themselves. They would prepare the house, themselves and, in the end, family or community meals from scratch.
In contemporary society, buying everything ready-made, even the entertainment, is a source for a feeling of alienation. There is little, if any, direct connection between us and the chocolate Easter egg we’re eating. The only effort put into it ourselves is probably just going in an overcrowded Tesco or Salisbury and cueing long lines to pay for it. Being dependent on comfort has the effect of cutting people from a reality that used to be immediate, touchable, colourful and needed attention, for a virtuality that we are not even sure where it comes from anymore.

Finding again something that can revive those sacred rhythms, that feeling of being part of a meaningful reality, in a meaningful world, structured, beautiful and amazing at the same time, might be crucial for humanity now. It’s probably time for reinventing our relation to everything, which human beings have proven so far they can do so well, with all the challenges and difficulties and even catastrophe in their way.
I will conclude with a greeting I missed this spring, more than before, one being used on Easter Sunday if not for a week in Romania: “Hristos a inviat!” (Christ has risen!).

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Going home for Christmas. Flavours of Banat countryside

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Another winter, on my parents’ street. 

There is no better time than the present time, they say, as both the past and the future are, in great proportion, reflections of our own minds. And if it is so, how to better tell one’s life story than starting from what is here and now, in one’s grasp, fresh and throbbing alive. As it happens, that “one” is me myself in this (inside) land.

Since I’ve left Romania, it’s the first winter holidays I’m back at my parents’ for. The travel was the most adventurous of all so far and the time spent here feels so cosy, familiar and somehow new and surprising. It might be because I’m the same girl who left her parents’ house when she was eight, to go and live in a flat in the city with her grandparents, because of both fortunate and unfortunate circumstances, and because I’m different now, a woman who’s grown out of her own and the others’ expectations. Considering at least that I used to be so convinced I will never leave the region I grew up in, Banat, and I wouldn’t even want to think of moving to another country, my life today looks so different from what it’s been imagined it would be.

But I intended to write about my journey and my time here on this holiday so far, and the little revelations that came with it. Traveling from Bournemouth area to London proved most difficult and even tearful this time. True, when I booked my ticket out for the 26th I was trying to save some money and I knew at that time there won’t be any transport available. All those months ago we weren’t sure yet if I was going to travel alone or with my partner, meanwhile he decided he could use the money earned over Christmas and New Year’s, for the goals he has in 2014, and I couldn’t but agree. So the plan was for me to take the train to London on the 24th and stay there till the Boxing Day morning. Easy, right?

Wrong. The weather seemed to disagree with my plans and I was offered a double lesson. First, I really really really really (I couldn’t write really as many times as needed, as you’d quit reading my posting right now) need to be better organised. A difficult task for my bohemian side, but (hopefully) not impossible.
Second, I am blessed with great people around me.

Now what happened: it took me much more to finish packing than I planned or thought it would. Still, checking the train times at around 17:00 on Christmas Eve, the South West Trains web site seemed to let me book tickets for the after 19:00 trains. Yes, the storm was making havoc, but if the train line site didn’t say anything exactly about the later trains I expected to be able to catch one. Maybe I just didn’t look in the right place.
Fact is when I was finally done with packing, tired and sad and feeling guilty I didn’t spend more time with him that day, my partner dropped me off at the station on his way to work. And then disaster struck. I looked at the train station electrical panel to realise the only train left to travel that evening was the past 20:00 one to Southampton. SOUTHAMPTON????!!!  I was done, finished, heart-broken. There was no way for me to get to London, no more trains, and I couldn’t push my partner to drive me there as he would work for three nights on a row. Bursting into tears (I know, just like a silly cow) I called him to disclose the disaster. He asked me to calm down and go home. Later he texted me not to worry, everything was going to be alright, he talked to his brother and they would arrange the details later.

On Christmas Day my partner’s brother drove all the way from London only to pick me up, so that next morning, very early, he could give me a lift to the 757 Brent Cross bus stop to Luton. I was saved. And I can’t say enough how lucky I feel to have such great people close to me, on whom I could count to save my so much planned and dreamt of winter holiday.

The night of 25th, before catching that flight, was a torment: I couldn’t really sleep, I don’t even know if I slept, it felt like I was drifting away and sinking into sleep, only to regain my conscious hearing, open my eyes and see that it’s been only about an hour since I’d last check the clock. Horrible.
One thing went like clockwork: my luggage weighted exactly how much my home scales said, and my boarding was as smooth and stress free as it can get. Bingo!

The flight itself was shaky and not very pleasant, presumably because of the windy weather sweeping across Europe. I tried to sleep, I almost managed to, and I helped the little girl sitting next to me to get over the fear and feeling sick. Told her to look at the birds flying when it’s windy, they too are a bit shaken by the air flow, but nothing serious happens. Making her feel better and be less afraid helped me feel better. Truth is I do enjoy flying and usually at take-off I feel a bit like a Stargate character in space shuttle (well, I never said I’m the sanest in the world) and at landing I’m just as content as an elf who’s wrapped 1000 presents for the greatest children in the world.

My brother with my nephew and my foster brothers were waiting for me at the airport. We went home, unwrapped presents, they got me the loveliest pair of fuzzy slippers, we chatted and looked at photos and then I’ve slept for 12 hours. At last!

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Being at my parents’ home is different this time, if only considering I’m trying to eat as low carb, high fat as possible. The last part isn’t so difficult, as they have just had a pig sacrificed, in the old tradition, for Christmas, and now we’ve got homemade sausages, the best in the world, smoked and hanged to dry, sângerete or black pudding and caltaboș or what the Germans call leberwurst, bacon and pork grease and all the joys of a fat meat eater. The low carb part comes a bit more difficult, with the traditional chicken noodle soup (back yard reared poultry, they come running when you open the door, as it’s their signal for “come and be fed”), with the mashed potato and the Romanian mamaliga (worldwide known as polenta). Still, the pickled cucumbers, beetroot and red pepper, the zacusca (a very popular kind of vegetables stew, made with aubergine, carrots, peppers) help as acceptable side dishes in my new eating style.

It’s most difficult to fight my mum’s delicious cakes and sweets. This year she’s made a type of French fancy which is different by the fact that the sponge is moist and this makes it even more delicious. Then there is the usual two vanilla filling and caramel layers cake, with a chocolate icing, and the old Greta Garbo, with walnuts and strawberries jam. There is some left in the tray in the living room, used more or less as a storage room in winter, and every time I pass through in my way to the huge bedroom the sweet smell of walnut, mixed with strawberries and chocolate aromas, just seems like a winter childhood dream still alive.
If there is one thing that I could single out as reminding me of my home region, of my parents’ village, is the smell. Different smells, which all come together to say “here is where I grew up, this is what I will take with me no matter where I will go”. And, at the same time, it was one of the first things I’ve noticed to be significantly different when moving to the UK: the way the air smells, indoors and outdoors.
It might be linked to my childhood as a person with allergies triggered asthma attacks. Back then, and probably now still, I could smell a clean room or a dusty one or a room with mouldy walls, even if it wasn’t visible. But asthma attacks are a thing of the past I am not any longer concerned with, fortunately.

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Now, the smells of old familiar things have come to my mind not in a nostalgic way, but as something I want to keep with me, a small and important thing speaking of my roots. The way an old countryside house smells like, the wood smoke, the Greta Garbo aroma, the traditional sausages and ”jumări” (a kind of crackling, served on their own and not as crunchy), the dry vegetable garden, the smell of fresh snow and freezing cold (I haven’t yet been blessed with these so far, unfortunately), so many things talking the same silent language.
I don’t feel nostalgic or wanting to go back to my childhood, even if I came to realise the house where I grew up and which I have called “home” for all these years will no longer be our family home sooner than expected. My father being a priest has lived in this parish house since I was about 3 years old or so. But now he’s got two more years till retiring age. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, a priest can still practice priesthood and have a job as such for as long as he is physically and mentally fit, as it’s considered a vocation rather than just a profession. Apparently, they have come to ask priests to retire when they reach the age most people become pensioners.
It’s something I always knew would happen and most certainly both me and my brother have grown out of our teenage years, when we urged our parents to convince grandmother to sell the house in a neighbouring town and buy one here, in the village they’ve lived in for so long. At the same time, it’s a change coming sooner than expected and it just makes me realise it is high time for me to  find a way to store the heritage of where I’ve grown up, distilled into potions to be given further to my children or to whoever is interested in trying the flavours of different places.   

 

 

 

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