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Happy New Year!

Last night, I had the honor of sharing New Year’s Eve with my friend Katya’s family here in Kyiv (Қиїв), The Ukraine.

In my mind, New Year’s Eve is a holiday that people celebrate in public and with friends and strangers. It is an antidote to the extremely private and family orientation of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Even if you remove Thanksgiving from the picture, for a more global take on the holiday, Christmas continues to be a holiday where people travel long distances to be with their family—sharing presents, food, and good times.

After so much time with your family, it is natural to seek out public celebrations and venues—be it football arenas for (American) college football bowl games, Times Square to see the ball drop, or any of the other “First Night” celebrations that dot the American and global landscape.

Last year I celebrated, without my luggage, in Prague, which although I was annoyed at the time, turned out to be a good thing. I was forced to wear my boots as I dodged fireworks and shattered Champaign bottles (well, not really Champaign bottles, but screw the French and their trademarked regional name) with a loud, boisterous crowd. Immediately afterwards, I made my way to my hotel and slept off the excitement and the jetlag.

However, the public orientation of New Year’s Eve celebrations did not happen to me in Kyiv. Katya’s family celebrates New Year’s Eve as if it were Christmas (although since it’s under the Eastern Orthodox Christian influence, Christmas here does not arrive until January 6—the 12th night when the three wise men arrived at the Bastard Jesus’s manger. (Eh, I can still be somewhat irreligious—I read somewhere that Mary was only betrothed to Joseph, not actually married.)

As Katya explained to me, New Year’s Eve is a big family celebration in part because under Soviet rule, the country was officially atheistic, eschewing religion for, well… nothing. (Imagine Bill O’Reilley’s reports on the “War on Christmas” if the US Government actually pushed atheistic beliefs and not “separation of church and state.”) People travel long distances to be with their families on New Year’s Eve—Katya came over 1,000 miles—and have a good old fashioned drunk fest.

Being allowed to take part in the New Year’s Eve celebration with Katya’s family was special. I helped decorate the Christmas tree—lights, ornaments, and tinsel carefully put on the tree in advance of the celebration—with the only requirement being that it was completed by 11:00—an hour before the celebrations began. Oddly, I cannot remember the last time I trimmed a tree—it’s been a very long time.

According to tradition, how you celebrate New Year’s is a predictor for the next year, and when we were drinking the toast to 2005 just past midnight (vodka), followed by the toast to the New Year (Champaign), Katya informed me that everyone would be perpetually late for the next year, and no, I was not excluded.

So, I’m sorry, this blog entry is late—but one must expect it from me this year.

And before I forget, please have a Happy 2006!

The two drinks were just the start of many, and of a midnight feast that had a virtually endless parade of courses. We started with a “cold/salad” course of various salads, meats, fish, and similar dishes. I sampled everything. Including more vodka—as we toasted to all things wonderful (Mom, Dad, Apple Pie, and the American Flag—but with the appropriate local substitutes), it was difficult, if not impossible to decline additional alcoholic intake, particularly, as I vaguely recall right now, Democracy. (Katya says this toast was proposed, but not actually completed. I have forgotten the specifics of each toast.)

After awhile, the second course arrived, including wonderful stuffed cabbage leaves (like, in many ways, stuffed grape leaves). I cannot recall what else was in the second course, I just remember that I was informed that that Meat course was yet to come. In the meantime there was more alcohol.

The meat course consisted of something really good—I mean, really good. It was mean rolled into some kind of pasty like thing—I felt my eyes drooping as I ate it.

Unfortunately I made a mistake: as a child, my family’s tradition was that if it was on our plate we had to eat it—the “Clean Plate Club” was a tradition at my house, and if it wasn’t clean, we were reminded that there were many starving children in Africa. Here, the clean plate was a liability for as soon as Mom realized my plate was clean, I was offered more food.

Lesson Learned: I didn’t let my plate get clean again. I carefully left food on my plate, which was easy since I couldn’t fit another bite into me.

After awhile, it was time for presents: Santa Claus is replaced with Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz) and Granddaughter Snowgirl (Snegurochka), who bring presents. In this case, it was Mom and Dad delivering bags of presents for everybody (this tradition is suspiciously similar to the tradition at my parent’s house).

Even I was included in this tradition, receiving a bottle of vodka, a Ukrainian flag, box of chocolates, a book on Kyiv, a flask, and other trinkets, including a very nice card from Katya’s grandmother.

In other words, I was unexpectedly and unnecessarily fully included in the family’s activities, despite the fact that I really only know a few Russian words—“no,” “thank you,” and “yes.” Communication is a challenge since English has not penetrated the Ukraine the way it has Budapest, Bratislava, Prague, Germany, and even Quebec.

Taking age into account, it was clear I was the family’s weakest link. I started feeling a buzz moments after midnight and by 03:00 I was, what I consider to be, trashed. Apparently the fact that I knew my name was evidence countering this claim, and there were several family discussions (in Russian) concerning whether or not I should drink more. As the weakest link, I felt as if I might puke—finding myself having to focus on not puking for about half an hour or so.

The memories generated last night will last a long time—it was special to be included, and I really lack the words in English (never mind Russian) to express my appreciation for everything.

The most I can say is Спасибо.

6 comments to Happy New Year!

  • Happy New Year! I made it to Germany. I do not have an internet connection yet, but I am at an internet cafe send you this note. Take care. More later..

  • koko

    happy new year! Don’t worry at least you didn’t call nearly everyone in your mobile memory telling them happy birthday…

    heh silly drunk koko

  • MT

    I love it! I, too, am my family’s weakest link at the bar … who can drink that much and not get a hangover, please tell me? (By the way, you have to see my Nashville entries … morons!)

  • Annie

    Happy New Year Adam! We got really drunk too in New York City. Didn’t see the ball drop but spent lot’s of money in Meatpacking District. This city is just awesome and we’ll go back on Wednesday. I promise I will upload some pics soon.

    Have a great 2006! If we don’t see in March, I already moved to NYC 🙂

  • Hey there! Wanted to wish you a Happy and prosperous 2006. Sorry we didn’t get to see you when you were in town. We had every intention of coming up and then some issues came up surrounding my kids and we couldn’t get free.

    So I am curious about this post…is this the Katya that we know? I was thinking SHE was from the Ukraine too but wasn’t sure. If it IS and you are still in contact with her, tell her to drop mea line sometime!

  • Thanks everybody for your New Year wishes… Fortunately I only get hangovers from Bass Beer, which means only that I do not drink it.

    Scotty–It’s not the Katya you know, this Katya is somebody I met at my office in Jena–She’s a Russian Ukrainian who invited me to visit her home in Kyiv. I don’t think she ever expected me to actually do it!

    Right now I’m at the airport, getting waiting for my flight to Berlin.