Monday, December 28, 2009

Working On Christmas... (Back From an Unintended Hiatus)

(Quick intro, then an explanation of how Russian holiday celebrations don't always mesh with those of expats at this time of year).

Well, the past two weeks flew by like a tornado, when the pace of daily life was already reaching peak speed before that!

How hectic has it been? Well... I *still* haven't wrapped any of the presents Chris and I are giving our kids, each other or my mom. That means that they haven't been opened yet, either. There has simply been no time. I thought I'd have it done at the beginning of December, well in advance... but then unexpected obligatory responsibilities kept being added on at work before the holidays.

(It's also hard to get out the gifts in advance because there's no place to hide them once they've been unearthed from various stashes and wrapped).

I could have pulled an all-nighter to get stuff done, but then I'd have been sick for the rest of my mom's visit--and that seemed pretty stupid. (I'm really worn down... Plus, in addition to my regular job, I've had to shoulder all the cleaning/cooking/laundry/grocery shopping since our babysitter is with her family near the southern border of Russia until January 5th).

Santa came to our house this year, though. I guess he had an overload of stuff on his sleigh world-wide because even he didn't wrap this year!

My mom has been doling out her wrapped presents bit by bit each day, though. I must say, it's even nicer... You really savor each thing this way.

But back to the beginning of this post... Many of you will already know this, but it might be a surprise to some readers... Why has it been so crazy here? Why haven't we had time to just pause yet?

Well, because it isn't even Christmas yet!

Russian Orthodox believers follow the Julian calendar, so Christmas here isn't until January 7th. According to that calendar, "Old" New Year's isn't until January 13th. When the Bolsheviks took power, they switched the country to the Gregorian calendar--but Christmas, in the hearts of Christians, remained on January 7th. You weren't supposed to celebrate Christmas in the Soviet Union, so it was easy for people to secretly keep the old date fixed in the minds.

New Years did officially move to December 31st/January 1st, however. Frankly, the whole country basically shuts down now from December 31st to January 13th.... It's New Year's! It's Christmas! It's Old New Years! Any reason for a celebration is seized upon here.

BECAUSE the country comes to a stop for those two weeks, the time leading up to December 31st is JAM-PACKED with every possible responsibility. Any business that needs to be completed before the end of January must be finished within those last days. That's why Chris was required to work on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

About that, though... For the past four years, we have been able to leave the country by December 23rd, leaving other poor expat lawyers to cover for Chris... If someone didn't stay here to cover, then the others couldn't leave... There was another expat around, but his wife had a baby on the 24th--so you couldn't exactly expect him to chip in! Chris did end up being able to work from home on Christmas Eve, though... And he chose to face the consequences of missing a very important meeting with a client on Christmas Day so he could be home with us instead. (That being said, he was constantly "on call" using his Blackberry for a good chunk of the day).

At the same time Chris was so busy, so were our kids (and me) at school. Exams, report cards, a piano recital and holiday performance rehearsals literally ate up last week. Last year we left early and missed it all--but now that I'm the Department Chair for the whole school, that's not so easy (or desirable). I wanted to be there for all the kids--and my own children were eager to be in the various plays themselves for the first time.

Katya had a lead in her grade's holiday show and she did great! Natalia did very well, too. (I'll blog more about individual events later).

This year we got to be a part of all of this and I'm glad we stayed. But in the future? I'm going to make the kids start rehearsing for the holiday performances in September so there is less of a last-minute drain on my time. I'm also going to insist that exams for my students be held before December 12th so I have adequate time for grading and report cards. I really resented being forced to grade exams four days before Christmas instead of baking or reading with my kids. I simply stated flat-out that the other American teacher and I wouldn't be working on Christmas Day, so at least I didn't have to be there for my regular lessons which begin at 8:45 a.m.

I know that I rubbed some people the wrong way with my refusal to work on Christmas Day, but I really don't care. Let it be a lesson in American Culture for them! I tried my best to explain it... I think they "got" it about the actual 25th, but not at all about Christmas Eve or the days leading up to it. There was no sense of why I'd be busier outside of work that week than during any other, of why you couldn't just expect me to write a report on an administrative matter that week without any trouble. At times I really wanted to scream!

It's now pretty much over, though... We're sight-seeing with my mom, and I'm keeping the girls home from school these three days leading up to New Year's. (They still have school since they missed two weeks due to the swine flu quarantine. The high school didn't, so we don't have classes).

Once my mom leaves, however, I will have to go back and much more carefully mark up all of those exam essays...

There is, however, an upside to all of this... I have until January 7th to still bake those Christmas cookies and put together that gingerbread house!

7 comments:

The Expatresse said...

HOORAY! Enjoy the holidays.

Annie said...

Drag it out....that's what I say. We used to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas.... I loved that. One gift a day beats a lot at once in my view.

Elle J said...

Interesting the history and "the way" Christmas and New Years are celebrated in Russia. Looking forward to pictures ~ hope you find time to rest with your mom and girls too.

Jupiter Family said...

С Новым годом!

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garnet said...

Glad to hear from you! I had wondered about how you were doing, but knew things were very busy there.

I love the new blog look. Makes me think of Valentine's already.

Though I can hardly truly know what it has been like there, I think I can sympathize a bit. I am *still* slogging my way through grading, over two weeks into the break -- and the end isn't in sight yet. I did refuse to do anything on Christmas day -- not that I exactly had any time in which to do things.

I thought I might finish right around Christmas time and then spend the week afterwards doing all the Christmas stuff -- listening to music (well, we'd had that on in the house since it didn't require work from me), reading stories, writing out our Christmas cards and making food gifts for the staff at our school. I was going to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas. It would be Christmas, just later. Well, even if I had been all done (which obviously I wasn't), still it felt like Christmas was over on the 26th. I think it would help if all around me society was still celebrating.

And I do agree that parceling out gifts is good. Last year our trip to Rwanda was unexpectedly cut short and we got back on Christmas Eve with nothing wrapped so I was able to spread things out then and I think the kids enjoyed the gifts better. I'd love to leave things under the tree and only open one gift a day but I always feel here uncomfortable having things out for fear of attracting thieves -- not that our gifts would be something they'd want, but they wouldn't know that until after they stole them.

Hope you feel like you truly get to celebrate Christmas!

garnet said...

I just remembered something I forgot to ask. Do exams there not fall during the final week of school? It sounds like you have some flexibility when to give them? I know that in Romania they take their exams during a two week (or maybe three) period about a month before school ended. That was always frustrating for me because after the exam was over the kids expected not to learn anything new, so what was I to do with them in class. I would hold off my exam until the very last days. And there were all sorts of rules about the exams -- not on a Monday or Friday and not on a day with another exam (or maybe just more than one other -- can't remember). It was hard for me to coordinate with the other teachers since I wasn't with them much -- I had my own classroom and they didn't so they would congregate in the teacher's room where I didn't generally go. The kids had fifteen or sixteen maybe classes they took so had to fit in that many exams.

Rachael said...

Hope you get a few days of calm and relaxation, even if it wasn't on the 25th.