Growing up in Romania during the 80s and 90s of the past century (and with that – I feel ancient), Christmas was completely disconnected from religion, Jesus, the 3 stooges and what not. This was mostly because religion was prohibited in our communist land of plenty of nothing. Also, my parents had very different views on religion. And by very different I mean that my father is a militant atheist while my mother is a traditional orthodox. Opposites do not attract for very long, I can tell you that much.
Anyways, to me as a child of these paradoxical parents, Christmas was all about the following 3 things
- eating as much candy from the tree so as to not raise suspicion from my parents (this involved the diversionary method of leaving the candy wrappers hanging on the tree and a mix of excitement and fear every time my mother identified a hollowed wrapper and proceeded to tell me i will lose all my teeth, ruin my appetite, bring on doomsday)
- catching Father Frost while he sneaked in through the window to bring me presents and oranges. Needless to say, I never had the chance to witness this historic event and – understandably – every time I found my presents already under the tree, my first reaction was to cry and scold my parents for not having called me when he was there! I don’t know why they kept this up for so many years. If I had a kid, I would come clean at the first attempt of yelling. They´ll find out anyways.
- “cutting” the pig. This is a big one. For an entire year, my grandmother would groom this pig on her tiny self-sustaining farm just outside the city where my parents and I lived. The Christmas pig was always called Ghiță. It was invariably a male and he would invariably be neutered right before puberty hit – to keep all those pubescent hormones from ruining the taste of the meat. Today I shudder at the thought. But back then there were no supermarkets. There was nothing really, so you had to make due with what you had. So every Ghiță had a very nice 9 months of life on my grandmother´s farm. All summer long I would play with him, feed him and scratch his back. He would lie in the sun and bathe in mud and scare the chickens and eat, eat, eat. For a short life, it sure was great. And then, come Christmas week, my uncle would pick up a knife and cut Ghiță´s throat. The screams were terrible and the entire court soon filled with blood as he ran around in the last throws. Eventually it would be over, and my uncle would proceed to laying the corpse on a bed of hay and setting it on fire to singe the hair off. When that was done, my grandmother or my mother would remove the ears and tail and then the big disembowelment began. Nobody was worried for a second about me witnessing this. It was such a routine activity that no one wasted a thought on how an impressionable 5, 6, 7, 8, etc. year old might feel about their pet pig being murdered before their eyes. The truth is, it did not upset me one bit. I had no context, no comparison. I didnt´t cry or scold anyone like I did for Father Frost. There was nothing wrong in my world. Today I would chain myself to Ghiță and claim allegiance to PETA. Although I am not a vegan, not even a vegetarian, I could never allow anyone to kill Ghiță any more.
As a grownup, Christmas is too much about getting stuff ready, buying things, traveling to visit family, EATING AND DRINKING like there´s no tomorrow. Sometimes I wish I could just steal candy and yell at people for hiding imaginary gift givers. And I would save Ghiță for sure!