Today I celebrate an important date. It has been three years since I came to live in Canada. On the 2nd of December, 2011, in the evening, after a thirty-hour-long day, which can only ever happen in your life if you cross the ocean, my airplane landed in Toronto, and I officially became a permanent resident of Canada. I was very scared and excited.
The fact that it has been three years means many different things to me. It means that I can now apply to become a Canadian citizen. It also means that it has been a long time since I have seen any of my old friends. My life has been separated in two big parts: before and after moving overseas. I start forgetting the names of streets I walked on, and the taste of pastries in my favourite cafes. I also pause more, searching for words while speaking my native language… Oh well. It has been three years of being together with my husband, two years of which our son also spent with us. Three happy and eventful years.
Three year ago I also celebrated my first Christmas. That’s right! In Russia, the celebration of Christmas is rather different. It happens on the 7th of January, and the festivities are primarily religious. There is no tradition of exchanging gifts, and Santa Claus only comes up in English textbooks.
Instead, New Year is celebrated gregariously. Families and friends gather at the table on the last day of the year. A jolly man with a beard, called Father Frost, brings gifts to children, who are allowed to stay up late at night. Young people are shooting fireworks outside, and at midnight everyone makes a wish while the clock strikes twelve. I find a lot of similarities between the mood of the Canadian Christmas and Russian New Year. When I read books about Christmas in the past, I would often mentally substitute it with New Year and move on with the story.
Then I came to Canada.
My first Christmas here, I was dazed by the atmosphere of celebration. Never before had I seen anything like that, and the memories of that Christmas mixed with the confusion of beginning a new life in a different country are bittersweet, full of wonder and very precious.
My Christmas that year started in the airport in Frankfurt. A bunch of serious-looking flight attendants, dressed in the dark-blue Lufthansa uniforms, stood in the centre of the hall and sang Christmas carols and songs. I have never seen anything like this. The thought that employees of such a respectable company would be singing in the airport seemed so unusual to me!
Now we live in the Niagara area, which is an hour’s drive from Toronto, where I landed three years ago, but back then my destination was further. We were going to Saskatchewan and ended up in a little town in the Southern part of the province. Its population was less than 3000 people, and I could walk from one end of town to the other in twenty minutes. It was similar to many other little towns in the middle of nowhere, but that winter it was full of magic for me, as all the houses were putting their decorations on.
I remember how one night, my husband and I went for a walk, and I could not get enough of luminescent reindeer herds and blown-up snowmen waving at us. I just saw them in the Canadian Tire flyer last week, but back then when I was blissfully unaware of big chain stores, it seemed like those homeowners had spun a small miracle with magical thread.
Wrapping presents was another adventure! Ribbons, tags and wrapping paper piled on the table, as I wrapped my thirty-something presents that year. It is not like I have never wrapped presents before, but usually I had a couple of paper rolls and a roll of ribbon to choose from. In Canada, gift-wrapping seemed to be turned into art. My favourite package was from my husband, who took bits and pieces of leftover paper, crumpled them some more and, making a patchy wrapping, wrote on the gift something like, “From Hobo-sband! Not stoled!” I cannot remember when we started making jokes about him being my hobo-sband – was it because of his beard? – but the tradition has continued ever since.
When we were visiting family, we saw a book advent calendar they had for our little niece. In a basket laid twenty five wrapped books, and she opened one every evening. I had barely heard of advent calendars before then, and all the ones I saw were chocolates. Books seemed so much better!
For me, the feeling of the holiday was amplified by experiencing many things for the first time. Listening to Christmas songs, baking extravagant cakes, getting Christmas books from the library, or decorating our first house for Christmas. We were rather short on money from the regular long-distance travelling of our courtship, but thankfully, there were kind relatives around. Thinking back, there was also this tangible excitement over choosing and getting every little thing, especially because we knew that we could only afford one of a kind! The closer we got to Christmas, the quicker the carousel of festivities went.
When I look back, I remember that time most fondly. I felt scared and lost, but somehow having lights twinkle outside on all the neighbours’ houses made everything better!
I have come some way since that first Christmas. I know that the glowing herd of reindeer does not come to people’s lawn from the magical village at the North Pole, but from the closest Home Depot. Yesterday we started our own advent calendar. We got twenty-five books for our son, as well, this year. All in all, some things have become ordinary and mundane. I can sing along some Christmas songs now, and I do not bring twenty books home from the library at each visit, just because they are all so amazingly beautiful.
I realize that sometimes we – can I say “we” now? – Canadians go over the top with preparations for holidays. But having an outsider’s look first, I wanted to embrace this gregarious celebration and become its part. As the days get shorter, the sky gloomier, and there is frost in the morning, I smile contentedly, “Ah, it is time to think about presents, for it will soon be Christmas!”
This post is a part of the series Christmas in Different Lands. If you want to find out more about celebrations in other countries, check this page. If you want to stay updated on new stories from Adventure in a Box, consider subscribing to our Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or Instagram pages. Thank you for reading!