From Pasties to Pierogi/Maria Sliva

This weekend I am off on yet another trip with Rotary – this time to the spectacularly beautiful city of Wroc?aw. On the agenda are singing traditional Polish Christmas Carols, eating traditional Polish gingerbread hearts, and everyone’s favorite pastime of touring [yet another] castle.

As December 25th quickly approaches, my preconceived notions of Christmas and the holiday season are constantly changing. I am surrounded by the constant clashing of ardent atheism and extreme Catholicism as well as a severe lack of snow and domestic Christmas decorations. Without all of the familiar indicators, I am forced to re-conceptualize what Christmas and its many facets really mean to me, among other things.

Although the Polish Christmas season is longer than the American one, it is not the continuous period of “Christmas cheer” with the general climax as the actual day approaches that I’m used to. Rather, it is comprised of a series of average wintery days interspersed with the occasional day of exceptional celebration such as Saint Nicholas Day and Christmas Eve. On these days, Poles go to great lengths to see that their traditions are celebrated with appropriate grandeur and fervor. Elaborate meals are prepared and lavish parties are held as families and friends come together to share in their love of the Christmas Season and of life itself.

In January I am slated to switch host families, which in addition to being exciting adds to the list of things that cause and have caused me to change my previous views of the world and its inhabitants. While every moment of the past three and a half months has been a valuable learning experience, there are a few that particularly noteworthy; 1) No matter what you do, you will never miss your family any less, you will simply learn how to deal with it. 2) As hard as it may be, you will eventually begin to learn who you are out of the context of your family – you may be surprised with the results. 3) Having more than one family may be difficult and confusing, but it is also one of the greatest gifts that you can ever receive. This Holiday Season, cherish your families – you will miss them when they’re gone.

Editor’s note: Maria Sliva is a member of the Houghton Rotary Student Exchange.