Being away from tradition, routine, familiar sounds, and “home” for the holidays can’t be easy for anyone. With that being said, I applaud anyone who was away this holiday, anytime in the past, and for those who will be in the future.
Knowing I wouldn’t be in Warren for Christmas for the first time in my life, I wasn’t really sure what to anticipate at this time of the year. Would we celebrate with extended family like I do in the States? Will I be so overcome with homesickness it would take all my energy not to cry at the dinner table? What does the month of December look like in this small town across the world from mine?
Though I had many questions, I was sure about one thing… This will be a Christmas I treasure and look back on for the rest of my life. After all, not many people get the opportunity to be a part of a non-touristy community across the world for Christmas.
I was reminded several times by people in my community that “it’s okay to miss home”, “that I was brave for being so far from family at this time”, and that “they hope I genuinely enjoy being in their community for the holidays”.
Honestly though, the days winding down to Christmas didn’t really affect me. It was the day before Christmas Eve, and I felt like it was just any other winter day abroad. That is until I called my mom, dad, and Jordi for our weekly video chat and a steady stream of tears ran down my face. It wasn’t that I really wished to be home or that I wasn’t having a good time here or anything like that. They were tears of “I know this is not going to be easy, but I know this is where I need to be”.
Flash forward to Christmas Eve Day. Zoli’s mom came over for lunch, and we ate chicken soup and gombas husz (one of my favorites!) together. Soon after she left, Panna and I headed to the church for choir rehearsal before the 6:00 service. The service began, and it still didn’t really feel like “Christmas” to me. But, I was happy to be a part of the Christmas play and the choir during the service. (I’m almost positive if I had to sit in the congregation and not participate in anything, this story would be quite different.) We sang beautiful Hungarian Christmas songs, and I was a barkeeper in the Christmas play. I felt a twinkle of “Christmas” at the end of the service because it ended with “Silent Night” (the song my church ends with in the States) in Hungarian!
My host family and I headed home to see if “Jésuska (Baby Jesus) came”, which indeed He did. We played English Christmas music, danced around the living room, and sipped mulled wine. Before opening presents, my második mama made a toast to me and expressed how she was so glad to have me as a part of their family, how she truly sees me as a daughter, and that she loves how I am a big sister to Panna. Naturally, I choked up trying to thank them for opening their hearts and home to me and told them that this Christmas will always be dear to my heart because they’ve made me feel so welcome. It was then that I felt in my heart what I had hoped would come, the “Christmas feeling”.
Christmas morning was slightly different for me because the family had already opened gifts the night before, so there was no need to wake up early. Knowing I had presents sent from the States, I set aside an hour and half of my morning to have my own time to open them and cry as I wished. Of course by the time I opened my second gift I was crying. I knew I had to save my “big present” for last because I knew it’d require a lot of energy and emotions, the scrapbook I requested.
I made myself as comfortable as I could get to place this most ginormous scrapbook I’ve ever seen in my life in my lap. As I leafed through the scrapbook with tears rolling down my cheeks for 45 minutes, I felt the closest I’ve felt to God all month. I looked through pictures from all different times in my life, read letters from dear friends and family from PA to NC to AZ to NH, laughed out loud, and cried tears of thankfulness.
I must say that that book is the most precious and special gift I have ever received. I was and still am speechless with how above and beyond my sending community went for me (especially my parents, Bri, Sarah Jo, Kim, and Raegen who helped assemble everything).
In the afternoon, my host family went to my második mama’s parents house. There I was greeted with a warm welcome from a few people I adore visiting, Nagymama and Nagypapa. I was given Christmas presents by them AND by the második mama’s brother’s family (whom I’ve only met one time before!). The eleven of us gathered around a table to enjoy a typical Hungarian Christmas meal- a special soup and csirkepörkölt. With that many people, there’s bound to be many conversations. There was always happy conversation being had (that sometimes I understood most of!) with the occasional “Boldog Karácsonyt!” (“Merry Christmas!”) thrown out there once in awhile over the bustle of voices. I was asked questions, offered multiple shots of pálinka (a strong Hungarian brandy), and encouraged quite often about how well my Hungarian is coming along. The youngest cousin even let me braid her hair! Before I left, my “host aunt and uncle” told me that I should come to their house sometime and proposed blessings to me during this holiday season.
Our family of four headed home and played some new games Jésuska brought Panna. I finished my night video calling my family back home as I was about to go to bed and they had just finished their lunch. What a blessing it was to be a part of both of my families that day!
In Hungary, December 26 is also celebrated for Christmas, so I had an extra day of traditional celebration! Originally, Zoli’s family was going to come to our house, but sickness hit one of the household so it’s postponed until Sunday. Instead, we relaxed in the morning/afternoon and headed to my host uncle and aunt’s (on Edit’s side) house around 4:00. There I was welcomed again with open arms, a new gift- a Hungarian towel, great food, and a tour of their house. I played with the smallest cousin again with a game (like DDR) she got for Christmas. I chatted with a cousin, who speaks English, who asked about American culture. Plans were spoken about to take me to Budapest for a sightseeing tour, and I did the smallest cousin’s hair again before we went home.
When we made it back home, I changed into my new pajamas sent from America and played card games with my második mama in the living room. After we played four different games with her practicing her English and me practicing my Hungarian, we snuggled up on the couch and watched a movie in Hungarian (which she impressively translated for me for two and a half hours).
I’d say my Christmas in Hungary was a huge success and will be remembered for a long, long time.
AND, I still have two more Christmas parties to attend…