Three Christmases away from home are a lot, especially when they are in Kazakhstan. The Christmas season just doesn’t exist here. I’ve blogged about it before, how New Year’s is kinda like Christmas but without a lot of the same message. Superficially, they look alike, but there are a lot of differences. Basically, if you want to feel like its Christmas here, you have to create it yourself, and that’s what we managed to do this year.
I won’t write a lot about everything that we did, but here are the key points for why this Christmas was probably my best one in Kazakhstan.
1. Christmas party at Zhambyl Zhastary
I had a party at my organization that went really well. Mark played Santa and we played a lot of Christmas games. Before I was told to make Christmas games in November, and I couldn’t think of any. But this time, I had found some online and thought of some myself. (Fun Christmas games: Draw things blindfolded, orchestra of Jingle Bells Animals, Find Santa (Frog killer but Christmas themed)).
2. Midnight Mass
Mass was less crowded this year, and there was no choir. However, Laura, Annie, Mark, Asela, and I still enjoyed it. Annie and Laura are Kazakh speakers which means they understood nothing. However, they swore heard “Nazerbayev” about ten times during the homily. Mark and I did not hear this, and Asela confirmed the Leader of the People was not mentioned. We are still wondering what Russian phrase they kept hearing.
3. Christmas Breakfast
Banana Pancakes at Mark’s house.
4. Post Office and the first Christmas miracle
One advantage (the only?) of Christmas in Kazakhstan is that you can still receive any last minute packages. After waiting for only 45 minutes (there were four people in front of me, average time helping customer = 11 minutes), I finally got my package. AND the Christmas miracle was that they let me get Erin’s as well. Previously, the post office never gave us the package of our fellow volunteers, but this time all I had to do was call and get her passport information.
5. Bazaar in a Santa hat and our second Christmas miracle
Being busy all week, we hadn’t had time to do shopping for the holidays, so we had to go to the bazaar on Saturday. Since it was Christmas though, I decided to wear my Santa hat all day long – even walking around the bazaar. I got a lot of “Hey Ded Moroz” calls, but some people realized that I was actually trying to be Santa Claus. One woman in the pig section even gave me a free slice of pork as a gift on the holiday. Oh, and in the pig section Laura managed to do the impossible. Earlier in the day, she had announced that she would find bacon. It can’t be done, I told her. I looked, and there’s no bacon. But with her persistence and positive attitude we found bacon in the Taraz bazaar. And not even a random package of frozen bacon from Omsk. Actual freshly made from butchered pig meat in Taraz bacon. BACON!!!!!! Year 3 just became a billion times better.
6. Christmas dinner
- Mac and Cheese
- Fun Dolphins (The name in French sounds like this, they are really fried mashed potato balls)
- Glazed carrots
- Roasted Chicken (too stringy, will be bringing back my old meat thermometer in March)
- Mashed Potatoes
- Crab and apple salad
- Curried Egg Salad
- Yule Log (I will post pictures of this amazing cake made by my French guests. It is unbelievable.)
- Sugar cookies
7. Christmas crafts!
I was somewhat joking when I told Jessica that she should bring the Christmas crafts, but I knew from Xmas in Karaganda how much fun crafts can make Christmas. Jessica delivered and we: made reindeer with our handprints, crafted ornaments out of homemade clay, decorated our own individual stockings, decorate holiday-shaped cookies with colored frosting, and cut out snowflakes. We even baked wall pieces for the gingerbread yurt, but we never got around to making it. (In America, Brad made one though. Picture to be posted later.)
8. Christmas movies watched mostly on Saturday and Sunday
- Nightmare before Christmas (**** - haven’t seen it since I was a kid, amazingly creative)
- We’re No Angels (***** - everyone should see this holiday classic with Bogart)
- Home Alone 1 (**** - amazing how well this stands up to time but could never be made today because of cell phones)
- Home Alone 2 (** - good, but less Christmas spirit then the original by a lot)
- Glee Christmas Episode (3 times because Mark kept missing the end) (*** - some great lines from Britney)
- Office Christmas Episode (*** - what a great final scene in the parking lot)
- 30 Rock Christmas Episode (***** - I laughed out loud at least three times)
- Love Actually (**** - possibly Asela’s new favorite movie)
- A Christmas Story (**** - reminded me a lot of Kazakhstan)
- Red Sleigh Down (**** - after singing the 12 days of Christmas a billion times this year in my English clubs, I can appreciate the running gag in this episode so much more)
- Rudolph (**** - I love that, at least on some level, America celebrates the differences of people)
- A Muppet Christmas (in French with English subtitles) (**** - watching movies in French is amusing)
9. Christmas Morning Two
- Banana pudding (with homemade vanilla wafers from Jessica)
- Bacon (!!!!!!!)
- Pancakes (made by Erin)
- Hashbrowns cooked in bacon fat
10. Gift exchange and stockings
As per Zhamballa tradition, everyone got a stocking and Santa filled them during the night. He brought us toilet paper, candy, pencils, curt, chap stick, and fruit. In our annual White elephant gift exchange, people received: Brown Sugar, knife sharpener, head scarf, Trivial pursuit baseball edition (could there be a more worthless game in Kazakhstan), a donated smock, candy, and the Oblast gift (consisting of a Chinese new year plastic thing, a framed picture of a random Kazakh man found buried in my old apartment, and a dog puzzle.) This year, the oblast gift was almost lost when one of my French guests grabbed it. However, Annie took one for the team and stole it when it was her turn.
I challenged people in our region to write Christmas carols, and they came up with some great ones. I’ll post them later this week because this post is already getting way too long.
12. Web cam
Finally, a Christmas where my parents understand Skype. It was great seeing them on the holiday rather than just talking to them on the phone.