In Kyrgyzstan (and the Russian world), Dec. 31 combines many of the traditions that we Americans generally divide between Christmas and New Year's. Everyone stays up until midnight, awaiting Dyed Moroz
's visit (when he will sneakily stash gifts under the tree, as stockings are not big here), watching fireworks galore at the big moment, drinking champagne, feasting on salads and lamb and sweets, and spreading warm wishes for the coming year. Since Josh and I lean more toward the "Christmas morning" celebration rather than opening gifts on Christmas Eve, we decided we would open all our gifts as a family on the morning of New Year's Eve. Kind of a random concoction of traditions, but it worked out fine.
|Our best monster cookies for Santa|
|Look what Santa brought!|
As is usually the case, Josh and I spent over an hour the night before wrapping up last gifts, arranging everything perfectly in the living room, adding a glass of milk beside the plate of cookies that Misha was so insistent upon (having forgotten to leave milk for poor Santa last year), putting final touches on a treasure hunt for Misha, and asking each other if we really got the kids enough presents. We didn't go too crazy for Christmas this year, for various reasons. (The kids already have a lot of toys, plus taking them all back with us whenever we leave will be impossible -- not to mention the simple fact that they will be happy regardless of how much you spend on them.) We reassured each other that we did have enough, and the next day confirmed it in full. Kids are kids, and often the smallest of presents are the ones they prefer most of all.
As if to drive home this point, Sebby came wandering into our room at 7:30 in the morning, when it was still dark out, having just visited the living room and pulled out one little surprise from his stocking. He announced in quiet ecstasy, "I got a CANDY CANE!" This was not a big, red-and-white, sleek and smooth candy cane. This was a little multi-colored limp thing, broken throughout and crushed nearly to powder, maintaining its shape only because of the plastic wrapping. (No other kind of candy canes exist that I have seen here.) And it didn't matter a bit. He was delighted.
|Exploring the stockings and other gifts left by Santa|
|Sebby lost no time in chomping the head of his chocolate Santa.|
Misha was up too, of course, marveling over the cool 3-D car puzzle that Santa left beside his stocking. I turned on the living room lights and, while Daddy attempted to wake up, I watched the kids dump out their stockings and ooh and ahh over their cool treasures: magic notebooks that opened with a code, chocolate Santas, Hot Wheels, balloons, little wallets, markers, and pens. I loved Misha's spirit of generosity when he discovered a little container of bubbles in his stocking, and Sebby said with some worry, "I don't have any bubbles." I immediately heard Misha offer, "You can have my bubbles, Sebby." But then Sebby found his, which he loved to blow at the confused cats.
|We were surrounded by bubbles all day.|
|A little ship left by Santa for Misha|
|Sebby's elephant book from Santa|
|Sebby is really into puzzles lately, which Santa obviously knew.|
When Daddy came out, the kids proudly showed them their new things, and Sebby and I put together his huge ocean puzzle from Santa. Eventually, we got around to opening the presents under the actual tree. Sebby loved ripping off the paper, and after each gift, he said, "I wanna open one MORE padarok
!" (present) He bopped over to the tree, picked one out, checked the label, and brought it over to stack up in the middle of the living room.
This year's gifts featured a number of homemade gems from Misha, including a Mystery Code Castle and a little piano that he made for me, a yurt diorama for Josh, number flashcards for Sebby, and a book of cat pictures for his cat. In addition, we got several adorable puzzles, Lego sets, and new books from from Grandma and Grandpa and Tanya and Aaron. And Grandma Kate's gifts are still on the way, so the fun will continue. Thanks, everyone!
|Misha's gift to his cat.|
A diorama for Daddy
The piano Misha made for me
My "Mistry Code Casl" from Misha
|Puzzles from Grandma and Grandpa!|
|A new Rubik's Cube for Daddy|
|The Indian in the Cupboard from Tanya, which Misha is enjoying so much that he begs me not to stop reading|
|Moon rover legos from Grandma and Grandpa|
|Little yurts and wallets|
|More printed-out Magic cards for Misha|
|A build-it-yourself robot (that seems ridiculously hard considering the 3+ label)|
|Beautifully packaged ornaments made by Nara and Tanya|
|A fun new zoo animal book|
|Sebby bringing out a present for mom|
|a coloring book from Misha|
|new cups and spoons for the bath|
|play-dough dinosaur moulds|
|a beautifully-wrapped gift from Misha ...|
|which turned out to be a horse that opened up to reveal a letter to Sebby.|
|a photo puzzle starring himself|
|a new Pooh puzzle from Grandma|
|Harold and the Purple Crayon, from Aunt Tanya|
|cute Russian story books|
|A favorite Russian story about a turtle|
The rest of the day was spent, of course, playing with new toys - building the legos, doing the puzzles, reading the books -
|Sebby's moon rover|
|Misha's rover, complete with a moonscape we drew|
|Fun in the tub|
and completing the treasure hunt we had prepared for Misha. The day before, Josh and I created several secret codes and clues, some easy, some harder, using English, Russian, math, and maps. When we presented Misha with the envelope for the first clue, he was eager to jump right in.
|Misha checks out his "tools" for the hunt.|
|Sebby helped with the first clue, which started them on their way to collecting puzzle pieces.|
|He had to use a globe to identify countries and collect letters to spell the next clue.|
|Eventually he had all the puzzle pieces, which revealed|
|A poem about Aslan and a mission to find a secret wardrobe.|
|But alas, it was locked. Luckily another clue pointed him toward the key.|
|Following certain numbers of steps and collecting a clue from a Rubik's cube led him ...|
|... to the key hanging on the tree.|
|Time to open the lock|
|and collect the prizes!|
|More Magic game cards for Misha|
|and a scooter for Sebby (with a monster from Tanya riding it).|
Though it took him a good hour and a half, Misha said he "loved" doing the treasure hunt. That and the little notebook that opens with a code were his favorite presents.
That evening, we were invited to Pasha and Marina's to see a real Russian New Year's family celebration. First, the food:
|Selyodki pod shuboi, or Herring Under a Coat, a very popular salad made with fish, pototoes, beets, onion, carrots, egg yolks, and mayo. On the upper right, holodyetz (made from boiling meat and bones and served cold with all the juices). Bottom right, garlic deviled eggs.|
|A delicious leg of lamb, seasoned and baked in the oven.|
|Chuchok, a traditional Kyrgyz treat of horse sausage.|
|Another fish salad|
|Marina and me with our wine|
|Pasha and Josh with their samogon|
We were joined by both Pasha's mother and Marina's mother, and we talked and snacked while the kids played. The four boys - Vladik, Yarik, Misha and Sebby - got to do fireworks Kyrgyzstan style, that is, shoot Roman Candles out the balcony window
and do sparklers in the kitchen
At midnight, we listened to Russian President Putin in Moscow comment on how fast time goes and how much our children have grown and offer his wishes that everyone will be more selfless in the coming year, making our communities and government better. Right about then, the fireworks display out the window was revving up. A small government display could be seen in the distance, but the real show was simply the huge fireworks set off by individual people in the yards between the apartment buildings. The kids were caught up in watching the fireworks out the window, and when they turned around, they discovered that Dyed Moroz had already come and gone, leaving behind pretty packages. Vladik and Yarik swooped upon their presents and had everything opened up in minutes. It was after 1 a.m. before we even got back home!