I have been living in Sweden for almost one and a half years now. Much has happened in that time, but as the holidays approach, I am reminded of last Christmas. I can recall it well, partly because during that period, I started to feel homesick, but also because of how eagerly my friends invited me into their homes, making that homesickness disappear.
We were all discussing our plans for the holidays. “Are you going home to the US?” they asked me. When I told them I was staying in Gothenburg, one friend immediately suggested I join her in Poland. Another offered his place for New Year’s. I was reluctant to accept because I didn’t want to intrude, but they insisted and so I capitulated. I am so glad I did.
I spent a week in Warsaw with her family and a mutual friend who joined us. Her family couldn’t have been more inviting and she was exceptional. She showed us around the city, introduced us to her friends - and THE FOOD!! I have never eaten so much! Christmas seemed to span over a period of three days during which all we did was eat traditional Polish dishes! It was amazing.
More than that, it was interesting to see how Christmas in Poland differed to what I was used to. They celebrate it on Christmas Eve whereas, in the US, it is on Christmas Day. But it didn’t matter. I was in awe. Before the main meal, there was a prayer done followed by each of us going around with a Christmas wafer (made of flour and water), wishing one another luck in our future endeavours as we broke a piece off each time. Then we dove into the various courses which consisted of everything imaginable: beetroot soup, pierogi with sauerkraut and mushrooms, herring, and salmon just to name a few!
Afterwards, we exchanged gifts. I was touched by how much thought everyone had put into them. It wasn’t about how expensive the presents were. It was truly about love, shown through the gesture of giving. No face was absent of a smile. Laughter filled the room when a particularly silly gift, like a package of pierogi presses (my friend loves pierogis so we bought her them!), was opened. Joy was palpable everywhere. It was heartfelt.
I am forever grateful to my friend and her family for that experience because although I spent the holidays in a country I had never visited before, it is the best Christmas I can remember.