"At the center of the universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service." ~Mr. Fred Rogers

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Celebrating in Snow!

If you haven't heard, Ukraine has received quite a bit of snow. Especially in my region and the L'viv region just South of me. (Some photos from Aljazeera, here) School was canceled yesterday and Monday due to the heavy snowfall, a bridge falling, and terrible roads. Unfortunately it's not quite the right type of snow for making a snowman, but as soon as it is, I'll make a big one outside my house and post a photo. With all this snow, it seems like the best thing to do would be to celebrate some Winter holidays, so here are some brief explanations about some celebrated in Ukraine! 

Some of the students artwork for the Ukrainian Winter Holidays!

Winter holidays last for over a month over here, this year beginning with Hanukkah which began on December 8 and lasted until the evening of December 16th. Although a very small minority consider themselves Jewish in Ukraine, it was once a flourishing religion, with some 2.7 million Jews in the territory of modern Ukraine. Although some anti-Semitism (and lack of knowledge) still remain, Jewish communities are strong in their faith and celebrations took place in bigger cities, such as L'viv and Kyiv.

Today we're celebrating St. Nicholas Day (similar to Boxing Day if the Queen is your thing)! Last night, St. Nicholas left sweets and presents under the pillows of children and they were were quick to show off (and share) at school. Everybody was in high spirits, talking about St. Nicholas and spreading the holiday cheer. He is, after all, the patron saint of children, so how can you not have fun today!? Also, my English department really made me feel special today, collecting different things to make sure I wasn't forgotten on St. Nicholas Day! 

Always good to be on St. Nicks "Nice List!"

Traditionally, Ukraine's minority Roman Catholics (and protestants alike) celebrate Christmas on December 25th according to the Gregorian calendar while a majority -- Greek Catholics and Orthodox -- use the Julian calendar and celebrate on January 7th. That means I'll get to celebrate Christmas twice! Of course, December 25th is a workday for me, so I'll be teaching lessons, but I know my school won't let me forget that it's a day for celebration. Also, I'll be Skyping my family and friends around the world, opening my presents under the tree with them and celebrating together the birth of Jesus! 

Ukrainian Christmas (Jan 7) is much quieter, less commercialized, and more religiously oriented. New Years and St. Nicholas Day are the 'gift giving' holidays, but Christmas is a time to be at church and spend with family. January 6th will be a big evening meal with 12 "Lenten" or meatless dishes. Of course every Ukrainian has their own traditions for this meal, (and even every region/state) but I know that for sure Кутя  "kutya" - cooked wheat, with honey, poppy seeds and nuts - will be every table, as will Узвар “uzvar” - dried fruit compote. Christmas Day consists of going to church, and Колядники (kolyadnyky) -- caroler's (usually small groups of children) going house to house singing and collecting sweets and small amounts of money. 

Not surprisingly there are two New Years to celebrate as well! We'll celebrate with the World on December 31st/January 1st and then we'll celebrate Old New Year on the 13th/14th of January. I love Old New Year's because children will come to my house, singing again, but this time they greet each home by forcefully throwing sprinkling the floor/corridor with wheat seeds for joy and prosperity with the New Year. This usually happens pretty early in the morning, and you can't clean it for 3 days!

Happy New Year!

Fun fact: Carol of the Bells is a traditional Ukrainian song, usually sung on Old New Year's! It comes from an old Ukrainian folk song, and the original lyrics describe a swallow, flying house to house, proclaiming the plentiful year that each family will have. The title comes from the world Щедрий "shchedryi" which means generously -Listen to a simplified version: "Щедрий вечір" ("Bountiful Evening"). 

Of course, I'll be taking photos to post along the way. I'll be celebrating New Year's Eve/Day with Ukrainian friends in the mountains of L'viv, which I'm really looking forward to. It made me feel pretty good being invited! This will probably be my last post before Christmas, so I hope everyone has a very blessed and merry Christmas wherever, whenever, and however you celebrate! 

Христос народився! Славімо Його! (Christ is born! Let us praise him!)

Friday, December 14, 2012


This is the first weekend I've been at home in the last couple of months, and it feels really wonderful! This past 8 weeks or so have been spent with friends, as our moments together were few before they left to go home to America. In fact today, December 14th, would have been the last 'official day' of my Peace Corps service in Ukraine had I not extended...and, if anything, this week has reminded me that I am so glad that I've stayed and yes, the goodbyes were difficult, but my work just wasn't quite finished.

The snow started in Kolky on December 1st, and hasn't really let up since. There have been some blue skies occasionally  but I've braced myself for another bitter, grey Winter. I'm more and better prepared than ever, and this third time around, I am 100% confident in saying that the warm weather will come back! 

My chilly front door!

The orchard to the side of my house

The "Furnace" as I like to call it - this is what heats both schools, and my house!

This week, the conclusion of my 'Water Project' was posted. You can check that out here: Kolky Lyceum Water Project! There's a little story of what we did with our grant money and the impact that it's been making! A fantastic cause worth supporting if you're feeling extra generous this holiday season! 

Also, as of today (the last possible day...) I'm legally registered for the next 7 months in Ukraine! The registration process began back on Halloween in Moldova and finally concluded today with a lot of stamps, a lot of back and forth, and a lot of patience. My school was so wonderful helping me out and supporting me with all of the necessary paperworks, letters of guarantees,  etc. They really showed me that they're willing to go a long way to keep me here in Ukraine just a little bit longer! 

Done with this paperwork FOREVER! 

Of course, it wouldn't be December in Kolky without the annual "Hello, We are Looking for Talent" contest! Students from 1st-11th form took the stage this last week, performing their little Ukrainian hearts out. There were 3 concerts, totaling about 8 hours over 2 different days. A few photos from my phone are of my 5th and 7th Formers!  

5b doing their thing! 

The 7b Ensemble

A group of 5th-7th Formers

Now I'm just waiting for Christmas and New Years! Christmas will be another day of lessons, but I have a feeling my school won't let it go unnoticed! I put up my tree earlier this month and although it doesn't have lights or a start (I've since put a Santa on top), it does have it's first package, which arrived early December! Thanks Grandma Jerry! 

Soon I'll post about a Teacher's Seminar I took part in planning and implementing, and some more plans for 2013! And of course, more photos from the White Winter Wonderland that is Kolky these days!