I’ve already told you all about my love of Christmas, particularly Christmas lights. Since I wrote about that, I’m pleased to tell you that lights have continued to pop up around town to my delight. These in particular are my favorite.
Yes, these are gigantic Christmas ornaments with lights over them. The best part? During the day, these are SHOPS that sell Christmas kitsch! I’m bringing these to the US. We love Christmas! We love kitsch! They’ll be a hit! America: you’re welcome.
This next display I nearly missed! This is the little square outside of the Metro station near my office. This is all sponsored by what I believe is a cell phone company, or perhaps a bank.
RoGA, you certainly don’t mess around with your lights.
But, as awesome as they are, enough about lights. What I know you’re all dying to know is how was my Christmas in Tbilisi. I’ve been negligent in updating you, which is unfortunate, because it truly was a great Christmas. Living abroad in general can be tough. Sure, I’m excited about the work I’m doing, and I love experiencing new places and cultures, but I miss my family and friends (and burritos) back home. There are good and bad days. So I was a little apprehensive about the impending holidays and wondering if I would have a complete homesick-induced meltdown.
Luckily I had two things going for me. One – Georgians don’t celebrate Christmas on Dec 25th. Two – I live with the most awesome host family in the history of host families!
Since Georgians don’t celebrate on Dec 25th, it wasn’t a big deal for anyone else. Instead of bumming me out, this actually helped me more or less ignore the fact that Christmas was creeping up on me.
3 Days ’til Christmas, or Dec 22nd
I came home and found this in the living room:
In Georgia everyone puts up New Year’s trees, which are exactly the same as our Christmas trees, obviously. However, they don’t usually put them up until just before the New Year. Lela made a special exception for me and put theirs up early. The lights sing, clearly.
2 Days ’til Christmas, or Dec 23rd
It finally hit me that Christmas was in 2 days, and I hadn’t even started shopping for my Christmas dinner! Before work I ran out and bought a few loaves of bread, and then spent what felt like forever cutting it up to sit out for stuffing. I was wishing I had my parent’s electric knife. That afternoon I left work early and set off with vague instructions on how to get to a street vendor who apparently sells a variety of spices. I probably should have brought someone who spoke Georgian with me, but at least I had the foresight to write down “seasoning” on a scrap of paper in Georgian letters.
My instructions included “come out of the metro and look for the green and orange building.” This sounds straightforward, except that I was at the transfer metro station, which has three different exits. Uhh, which exit?? After about a half hour of wandering around the streets surrounding the station, and trying every single exit, the last direction I headed out of the last exit, I finally saw the huge green and orange building.
Side note: I leave plenty of time to do even the simplest tasks here. In the U.S., if you asked me to run out and buy cinnamon and poultry seasoning, I would allot perhaps 10 minutes for the task. In Tbilisi, I hoped three hours would be enough.
From there it was pretty straightforward. I did wander around convinced I could smell the spices, but I couldn’t find them. Of course the stand was right in front of my face. Cinnamon was easy to figure out with the vendor – he had a few sticks laying out, and I pretended to smash them, until he handed me a little packet of ground cinnamon. Poultry seasoning proved a little bit harder to explain. When I showed them my scrap with “seasoning” written on it, and they handed me curry powder after curry powder, I cursed myself for not writing “chicken” on the scrap too.
I mostly cursed myself because I knew what I had to do.
Yes folks, I imitated a chicken.
And then I left triumphantly with my poultry seasoning and cinnamon.
Total time: one hour. Yesssss! I will not try to explain the feeling of euphoria and invincibility this inspired in me for the remainder of the day. I pretty much felt like the smartest person alive.
Side note: In general, acting like a chicken does not make me feel like the smartest person alive.
1 Day ’til Christmas, or Dec 24th
Christmas Eve I went to work as usual, and then headed over to the Kolga (the English movie “theater”) for a showing of It’s a Wonderful Life, one of my favorite Christmas movies. Armed with my giant bag of popcorn, it did feel a little strange to be watching this classic in a theater, but I really enjoyed it. It felt very Christmassy!
Laying in bed heading to sleep on Christmas Eve, I did start to feel a little homesick. It’s the first Christmas Eve that I can remember that I did not spend at my Granny’s little Methodist church in Fork, MD. It’s my favorite Christmas tradition.
CHRISTMAS DAY, or Dec 25th
When I woke up Christmas morning, I talked to Ian while he opened his present from me (I sent him chocolates, I know how to make a man smile), and felt a little teary missing him and my family. When I finally ventured out of my bedroom, I found Lela in the kitchen and the kids still asleep. Lela said, “Laura, please, come here” and I followed her into the living room, where she presented me with a CHRISTMAS PRESENT! I promptly burst into tears I was so touched by her thoughtfulness and kindness. Seriously. Best. Host Family. Ever.
My present, if you’re curious, was also awesome:
These little trees are sold on every corner in Tbilisi. I am completely obsessed with them. They’re made out of wood carvings, but I have no idea what they’re called.
This little clutch is handmade by a Georgian woman, with Georgian wool! I now keep my elevator money, key, and cell phone in it.
And my favorite gift? The Georgian mug! I now drink all of my tea out of it, and when Lela is making tea, she asks “where is your cup?” which I find hilarious and adorable for some reason.
And it gets better. The other side:
I’m told this says I <3 Georgia! Yessss! I can’t wait to use this mug at home.
The rest of the morning/early afternoon was spent preparing dinner. All I can say is God bless the magic (?) that is margarine. And without further ado, I present to you a Vegan American Christmas Dinner in Tbilisi!
Well, they’re allowed fish at least! Except on Wednesdays and Fridays, so I’m very relieved Christmas fell on a Saturday!
I used my Granny’s recipe, and the flavor was amazing. Unfortunately it was a little dry. I was hesitant to use too much vegetable broth because frankly, it seemed creepy.
I think Lela was concerned since I never cook, so she had a “back-up” ready. This dish is pretty good. It’s cornmeal boiled, and then you tuck some sulguni cheese in it so it gets melty.
No one had heard of cranberries, so Lela picked up what she thought might be similar. I have no earthly idea what they are. Lela said you call them “galena” in Russian, but after googling extensively, I can’t figure it out. The sauce turned out exactly how cranberry sauce is supposed to turn out. Unfortunately, while the berry’s taste is ok, the smell is horrendous, and I couldn’t bring myself to eat much of it.
Not pictured: mashed potatoes, and the apple crumble I made.
Overall the meal was a huge success! Lela and the kids loved the stuffing and apple crumble. They were rightly suspicious of the not-cranberry sauce, but seemed at least partially convinced that if you use actual cranberries and have it with turkey, it is awesome.
The evening was spent Skyping with folks back home. I spent time talking to my Mom and Dad, my Aunt Dar and her man friend Bunky, and was super psyched that my brother and sister-in-law made a special trip up to the house to say hi with my precious nephew. I even got to talk to my Aunt Pam when my dad held the phone up to the computer. It sorta worked. It was great to talk to and see everyone and watch my nephew open his Christmas presents! And of course see my parents in their full Christmas morning PJ gear. I also got to talk to my early-bird friends Stephanie and Melanie, and Melanie’s mom Terri!
By the time it was all over, Christmas sorta felt like my own private holiday. I didn’t feel left out of anyone else’s Christmas celebrations, because, well, no one else was celebrating! And my host family went completely out of their way to make sure my day was special. And I know next year I’ll appreciate all of my traditions back home that much more, spending the day with my loved ones. Maybe I’ll even fix a Georgian dish! Galena sauce anyone?