I used to live in Narnia, Clive Staples Lewis’ magical, mysterious, sometimes frighteningly wonderful land somewhere between the lamppost and the castle of Cair Paravel.
My former home, Akademgorodok, Russia, carved out of huge, dense evergreen forests. Numerous well-worn paths wind their way thru these forests intersecting and dividing to form a pedestrian walking network. As we trekked these by-ways to and from everywhere soft blankets of new-fallen snow dusted the lanes and forests daily. The downy flakes reflected diamonds and stars, especially in the moonlight at night. Narnia indeed.
For 80 years prior to our coming, Christmas in Russia was forbidden. There were none of what E.B. White calls “Christmas wrappings” cluttering the true meaning of the holiday either because even though January 6 is Russian Orthodox Christmas on the calendar, the celebration was not allowed.
Festivities centered around New Year’s Day & Eve. So when we came to Narnia we could not find tinsel or lights or Christmas displays or Christmas tree lots or a bombardment of ads for Christmas deals. No loudspeakers blaring carols or Nativity scenes or Santa at the mall. That part of life in Narnia was actually a pleasant surprise.
Instead, Akademgorodok’s New Year’s celebration centerpiece, two mammoth snowy sliding hills, emerged in the street near the main shopping district, Targovie Trading Center with the entire street blocked off to traffic as dump trucks hauled massive quantities of snow in and bulldozers then pushed the huge mounds, compacting them into two hills–one bunny hill and one large hill.
Wooden platforms built on the tops of the hills comprised the impressive platforms so the kids could easily step up the hills and slide down using pieces of cardboard, flat plastic, or just their own rear ends as sleds. Some of the older kids go down standing up, kind of like downhill skiing without skis. A tangled mass of gleeful, snow-covered revelers smash into one another as everyone slides down into everyone else creating a crowded traffic jam at the bottom. One by one the blissfully wet sliders stand, run up the steps, and slide down again and again.
Meanwhile a huge evergreen tree emerges nearby with a large metal frame and big pine branches intertwined. A crane hoists more branches and men on tall ladders put them in place. Eight-foot wooden panels painted with winter scenes and Siberian folk characters frame one side of the street. Colorful lights dance across the boulevard all along the way to Targovie and huge speakers hung from light poles and kiosks belt out an incessant stream of tacky, inappropriately loud music including Russian Rock, Elvis, the Beach Boys, and tunes from American movies, like the theme songs from “Love Story” and “Sound of Music”. FarSide incarnate to hear “the hills are alive with the sound of music” in the middle of Siberia sung in English at Christmas.
Kids frolicking in worn out snow pants,
frayed wool mittens and
furry Stormy Kromer hats;
Even the family dog sliding down the hill backwards barking,
Parents and grandparents on the slippery sidelines watching,
Teens at the kiosks buying warm Coke,
Dear friends strolling arm in arm toward Targovie to shop,
An old man hawking “New Year’s” trees
from the back of his green Army truck,
Another selling fresh bread
from a fold-up card table on the street
(frozen, I’ll bet–both the man and the bread),
Fireworks–random eclectic fireworks–light up the sky.
Norman Rockwell comes to Siberia.
He doesn’t see Santa but maybe, just maybe, that’s a good thing.
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