Reflections on a Romanian Christmas, Once Upon a Time

December 26, 2008 Updated: October 1, 2015

Christmas decorations and an happy tree like this used to greet the author every year during her childhood in Romania. (Stephen Morton/Getty Images)
Christmas decorations and an happy tree like this used to greet the author every year during her childhood in Romania. (Stephen Morton/Getty Images)
Christmas spirit, happy holidays! The Holidays are here with expectations for a better year, fewer worries for adults, and good toys for children of all ages.

Opportunities to purchase gifts vary: the purchase of a computer or skateboard for the rebel teenager, or a new car for the parents. Children hope that precious things will fill their dreams. We dream about things that we hope will make us happier.

During the holidays, in addition to offering gifts, we may try to offer affection to our family, friends, and colleagues. We can and want to be the heroes making dreams come true, at least for a few days! We can be the Santa Claus who brings gifts, and this is so important! It increases the goodness of us, making us able to love others. Times are tough and the global economic crisis this year may help us remember traditional values. Sure, gifts are good, but the time and affection given to loved ones more valuable. Toys, sweets, or the new car will go away, pass, or become dull—but the warmth of our soul will remain as a light-giving hope, sometimes retaining memories of others for a whole life. In addition, it is easier when you have someone dear to enjoy the holidays with.

In the old days it was quite different, as can some of us can remember. I remember childhood with communism, which is felt more by the fact that I had only few toys for which I cared deeply. I remember the concerned faces of parents, and the lack of money in a house with three children and a grandmother who the communists took everything away from, condemning her to starvation. I remember a tough life, with Mom sleeping only few hours a night and Dad arriving late after a hard day at work, only to go onto a second job so the money would be enough. It was a difficult childhood, but my parents tried the best they could.

In addition to the bad memories, winter holidays remained always in mind with dreamlike radiance. We were not able to appreciate their true value, but now, looking back, I think that the material poverty of my parents contrasted sharply with the richness of their souls, as they worked to make our holidays happy. Brushing dust off  the memories of the past, I thought of one evening before Christmas, with Mom working tirelessly around the kitchen and we, the children, impatiently expecting the coming of Santa Claus.

Mellow and satisfied we expected Santa’s visit, and slept light, eager for an early dawn, or, who knows—maybe to see Santa coming with presents? Night passed more slowly than ever, morning came and the same miracle had happened again: the tree decorated superbly by Mom overnight with the decorations meticulously collected during the years. Candies wrapped in coloured tinfoil hung in the tree, with oranges we would taste for the first time that year, and a little Christmas gift for each.

But the Christmas tree was the most beautiful and desirable gift: superb and proud, it stood shining in the house as we children stood around it, gleeful and fascinated. The memories are coming back with the smell of cookies, sweet bread, and all sorts of other goodies that Mom sweated all night over, gifts that reached us through toil and sacrifice, which may just be why we enjoyed them so much!

Years have passed and things have changed, and maybe not for the better. The holidays have become more commercial, and at the same time, heavy and empty inside. Everybody is waiting for gifts which no longer seem enough. Radiance is sometimes now found more in stores than people’s hearts. We go to shop with prepared lists, buying and coming home late with gifts, but with less holiday meaning and hope. Like something is missing: the lightness that may have been abandoned for a career, fortune, or to run after happiness.

In the commercial world we live in, traditional values turn to dust, children and parents rarely see or pass near each other in the house where they live together, with each too deeply immersed in their own problems and search for their soul.

We miss the joy of a simple life and loved ones to enjoy it with. Sometimes, even if they are near us, distances have increased, and everyone participates in the ritual of holidays to try to fill the gap—a gap created by the one year that elapsed between the running and empty feelings.

Refined foods cannot replace the acute need for the holiday spirit we all have. We risk becoming alone in our own homes, taking the “amnesia dose” to face the holiday as we  can. After the season passes we have other wishes: to loose few pounds, make a step further in the career or earn more money, or to buy more things that we associate with happiness. Time passes and leaves us worn out and drained of life. Jobs increasingly grasp at our vitality, which enriches the companies we work for at the expense of our family and soul. If you do not have a job, then the worry and need to find one makes one look tough, unhappy, and stressed.

Next year other holidays are coming, with expectations for us and good toys for children of all ages. Children will again hope for precious things to fill their dreams. Over time, however, parents stop listing their dreams, but are content to wait for a miracle, that they can retrieve their loved ones, families, and the joy of a simple life.
The opportunity is now, however: as in the past, during tribulations we gather around loved ones to enjoy their company. To love them as they are, because we have someone to love! Let us remember that man sanctifies place, and to be happy we do not need too many things. Happiness is a state of mind, which has no relation to external things, but only the inside. Let us remember that the happiest person is not the one who has everything, but one who manages to do everything from what he has.  Happy Christmas, dear readers, hoping that the coming year will find us among loved ones more real, more compassioned and more tolerant!