When Christmas Never Ends. Atheist Adventures: Part 2

When you try to look like Hemingway

It’s 19th of January and the last official day of Russian winter holidays - Water Christening. On this day we usually put on our bikinis, go to the nearest river or ice-covered water reservoir, jump under water, resurface, hide back in mink fir-coats and spend the rest of the day drinking hot sweet tea with lemon and vodka. Of course 99% of the population just turn on the TV and watch our politicians do all of this for our sakes. This year though I got no strength left in me to suffer TV. Having moved to Cardiff, UK I received a life-time challenge: to survive two months of winter holidays instead of usual one.

As mentioned in Part 1 Christmas in UK, this present-fever Secret Santa confetti apocalypse made me want to escape to a milder European climates.

My initial idea to meet New Year traveling looked fantastic on paper. Like Russians say “the way you meet New Year Eve is the same way you’ll spend the rest of it.” However after a tiring December of force feeding with advent calendar chocolates in rainy Wales and a week in an overwhelming winter Paris with Chanel street lights and my friends’ wine diet I began to get a bit tired of all that Christmas.

In Paris you almost forget it’s Christmas

Having said goodbyes to Ukrainians at a Parisian bus station I started off for Netherlands to change surroundings and meet New Year with my neighbor Eda and her jolly Turkish friends.

Right after Belgium the bus drove into fog and like a tipsy sailor from Odessa for hours struggled through the infinite white cloths of mist and canals before reaching the port of destination. Utrecht surprised me with massive steel skyscrapers whose tops never surfaced from the clouds of hase. Thus the two remaining days of 2016 were like a set of Blade Runner or Bif’s world from Back to the Future II— steam-punk urban utopia in neon lights. Destroyed in WW2 the city is now being recreated in all good traditions of self-destructing Swedish furniture.

All “cultural life” is also concentrated in remains of old town (entrance through the shopping mall), and thanks to my company’s enthusiasm we managed to see nearly every aspect of it. From a church converted to a bar serving kitten’s 200 ml doses of fruit beer to a ‘happy ship’ slash coffee-shop that looked more boringly civilized and had a cleaner toilet that almost any children cafe in Kharkov.

Ex-church bar in Utrecht

The only thing left was meet New Year in a fun, but conscious way wnough to be able to find my plane next morning. The biggest flaw of this plan (like all of my Christmas’16–17) was I started celebrating too early. At 8 p.m. after a glass of wine (or two) I wisely let my Turkish friends start off a search for last-minute party and take 30 minutes of sleep to meet New Year ‘in a fresh way’. Which I did.

Next time I opened my eyes to realize it was:

  1. 2 a.m. in 2017;
  2. Time to catch a train to the airport.

Running with a suitcase through the mist of fireworks, canals and tipsy dutch students I reached the station just in time catch the last train leaving in 5 minutes. On the way to the platform I also met my Turkish gang who had a great time and tried to describe it in the most painfully long sentences imaginable.

Next faces I remember were Stansted airport workers’ cheerful greetings on surviving the year as well as getting a rare delight to enjoy New Year’s special London rain that chased me all the way back to Cardiff.

Cardiff — Christmas as usual

But if my neighbors and colleagues were happy to be done with holidays, for me it only began. In years of celebrating winter holidays “Russian style” my body got used to spend two weeks between 1 and 14th in a horizontally. 3rd January at work taught me to sleep with eyes open. Neighbors started suspecting I was a zombie and to reassure them I was not I decided to prepare a Christmas dinner for 6th of January orthodox Christmas.

Ukrainians don’t do Christmas without real trees

Christmas spirit returned on an evening of Christmas Eve. Walking under rain I tripped over a bag with a live green Christmas tree. It stood by the doors of some neighbour’s house waiting to get shipped to its Christmas tree cemetery. When I came home and understood that I can’t fall asleep because I WANT TO CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS SPECIAL WAY I put my pyjama pants in wellington boots and walked through the rain back to the tree. To make sure I knocked on the door, woke two sleepy Koreans and asked them if I could take “this wonderful tree for artistic project”. They nodded in a scared way some people do when they get a knock at the door at midnight. And then I dragged the tree home remembering my grandpa and all those soviet cartoons.

“Sweet” table always goes after 12 course meal.

The best thing was to see my neighbors’ faces next morning. Some of them never even had a live tree before. The dinner went on quiet and nice with movies and 12 traditional courses.

And only after having finished all the food from that humble dinner a week later by Old New Year’s Eve (13 January) I felt happy and alive, as if things got into their right places and I was in power to celebrate what I knew best. After two months of Christmas two things became clear:

  1. Traditions empower those who understand them, even atheists;
  2. Mixing holidays is like mixing alcohol — only a pro can do it right.

P.S. And then just for two minutes snow came to Cardiff.

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