Our Christmas in Bulgaria
Even under normal circumstances, I don't decorate a ton for Christmas. I love other people's well-decorated houses and trees at Christmas time, but I haven't ever put in the time or money to do anything outstanding at our own house. It was pretty much the same story here in Plovdiv, but with less pressure and guilt because 1) we don't have any Christmas decorations and 2) the level of Christmas ornamentation here in Plovdiv is much less than we're used to seeing at home in the US -- there are beautiful lights and a small Christmas market on Glavnata (the main pedestrian shopping zone in the middle of Plovdiv) and many stores have modest decorations, and we saw small Christmas trees and lights in some apartments, but nothing like the Christmas markets of Germany or the sometimes amazing light displays of American houses.
Anyway, here's what we did for our Christmas decorations, in a short series of extremely mediocre photographs. (Is it possible to be extremely mediocre?)
The kids found two small artificial trees in the basement storage room in our rented house and our landlord Chavdar said we could use them. This is apparently the best picture I have of them, from a pre-Christmas dinner we had with a local friend from church, Ivan. (It's hard to get Phin to look normal for a picture.)
Mira drew this Nativity Scene and made a paper star to put at the top of the tree.
I bought one short string of Christmas lights and Lillian and Mira made lots of ornaments and other decorations from paper.
I think everyone contributed to the snowflake collection that went up on our living room windows.
Making Jon's Grandma Leah's sugar cookies is one of our Christmas traditions. Of course we don't have our cookie cutters with us, so we used a glass to cut circles. They taste the same. :)
On Christmas Eve, we observed some Bulgarian traditions. We had a vegetarian meal made up of an odd number of dishes. This is usually 7 or 9, but can be any odd number over 6. (I've also read that 12 is the correct number of dishes, but I went with what an actual Bulgarian told me.) The meal is vegetarian because it's the last day of their Lent, and on Christmas, there is feasting with meat. Some typical dishes are bean soup, pumpkin banitsa (a layered pastry dish), walnuts, a special shaped bread, and dried fruit. Seth wrote a post on his blog about our Christmas Eve meal with photos.
It's also Bulgarian tradition to burn a big log in the fireplace on Christmas Eve and to keep it burning all night. We did that, if you count reviving the fire the next morning using just the coals from the night before. We also roasted chestnuts over the open fire (cue song, and notice them on the shovel in the fire). They were pretty good and we had them in our stuffing the next day, but they weren't really worth the trouble. Next time I'll just use the oven. But I had to do it while I had the chance!
Now it's New Year's Eve and we're doing our usual boring but pleasant thing of hanging out and eating junk food (with some decent food thrown in for good measure) and waiting for 2014 to arrive, which it will do nine hours before our Mountain Time peeps back home! We've heard from everyone that it's a bigger holiday than Christmas and that people go crazy with fireworks. We already heard some pretty big stuff going off last night in an unofficial pre-New Year's Eve celebration by people apparently wandering around in the middle of the night. Our neighborhood is typically really quiet, so it will be interesting to see how it goes tonight.