I Made It To My First Real Christmas in America


My mom used to work at a very well known children’s department store that was located in the center of Bucharest.

romarta-copiilor
The store “Romarta Copiilor” in the 1970s Bucharest (photo courtesy of Dan Nichifor at http://www.etimpu.com)

Sometimes she would take me with her when she worked the afternoon shift because she didn’t want me to spend hours all by myself inside the apartment. My dad worked all day and my sister and my brother were going to school in the afternoon as well.

The store manager and my family lived in the same building. He allowed me to play in the store when it was not too busy. I liked to ride three-wheel bicycles as often as I could because I knew my mom couldn’t afford to buy me one. I got a chance to play with all kinds of toys and tried on lots of shoes and dresses.

The store had very large front windows. I liked to watch the man that was selling balloons to kids when the weather was warm. My mom didn’t mind getting me a balloon once in a while.balloons-1786430__340I liked to hang around the women that ironed the clothes that were to be put up for sale. My mom worked in the School Uniforms Department. My dad came at night when the store closed and picked us up. My mom used her tips to buy us small cakes and chocolate candy from a nearby store before we went to take the trolley. The trolley traveled at low speed to avoid getting disconnected from the power line and delayed the ride. It would take us about an hour to get home. Most of the time, I would fall asleep in my dad’s arms.

Around the holidays, I liked to watch Santa Claus through the big windows selling candy in front of the store in the same place where the man was selling balloons during the warm weather. One day, my dad took me downstairs to meet him. He talked to me. I was a bit scared of the way his face looked because most of it was covered by his white beard.

When I was five years old, Santa brought me my first doll. When I got a little older I found out that it was my sister that bought it for me. She paid almost her entire first salary to get it. She named it Françoise. A few years later, they stopped making dolls as pretty as she was. My mom took such good care of her that I still have it. I had to change her clothes because they got damaged over the years. It is the most beautiful Christmas gift I received as a child.

My doll – Franςoise

Toys and School Supplies Departments – Photos courtesy of Dan Nichifor (www.etimpu.com)

People used two names for Santa Claus. I didn’t think there were any different until I found out they had different meanings. Mos Gerila or “Father Frost” was a folklore figure and better accepted by the communist regime than Mos Craciun where the word “Craciun” was of a religious nature.

When I began school I couldn’t go with my mom to the store as often as I would have liked. About three years later, I could not see Santa Claus in front of the store anymore. The teacher told us in school that Santa Claus “died”. We were not allowed to officially celebrate Christmas anymore. We felt confused. We were not given an explanation. Some kids started crying. This time, the communist regime banned Santa Claus and the Christmas spirit. That was their best way of sharing the news.

Despite the new changes, people were still buying Christmas trees. Stores continued to sell Christmas ornaments and decorations. christmas-ornament-207334__340However, you could not find pictures with Santa anymore. Some people still celebrated Christmas in their homes even though they were unclear about its real meaning. Mos Nicolae took Santa Claus‘s place. We did not know too much about him. I imagined him as being a smaller version of Santa Claus. There were no pictures showing us how he looked like.

Mos Nicolae came at people’s houses on “ziua de Sfintul Nicolae” or Saint Nicholas’ Day. It was surprising to me that people could openly talk about Saint Nicholas, that was a religious figure in the Orthodox Religion, knowing that during those days religion was a forbidden subject. Somehow Mos Nicolae managed to come back every year on December 6.

On the night of December 5, I used to shine my boots and get them ready for the presents Mos Nicolae was going to bring me. They were simple presents consisting mostly of small chocolate bars, candy, or fresh fruit. Sometimes I would receive an orange or a banana depending on how soon they arrived in Bucharest from warm climate countries and how lucky my parents were to get a hold of some at the market. If my mom had money she would buy me pajamas. Pajamas were her signature gift for the holidays.

I asked my mom how Mos Nicolae managed to get into the apartment. She made up this story where he was shrinking his body so much that he could fit through the key hole of our entrance door. I believed her. During the night towards December 6, I would get up a few times to look through the key hole and check if he was there.

Christmas Day became a regular working day. However, a lot of people were still buying presents and decorated their Christmas tree. I could only imagine how awkward it must have been for the kids that had been born during that time and had not known who Santa really was until almost fifteen years later in December 1989 when the Christmas spirit found Romania again.

That winter, we didn’t have a Christmas tree and much to celebrate Christmas with. We couldn’t buy or make gifts because things were still unsettled in the country. I was simply glad that every one in my family was all right. That was more than a good reason to celebrate.

I cried when I saw for the first time on TV how grand and bright the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City looked like. I considered it to be my Christmas tree that winter. Two years later, I left the country. I was lucky to be able to visit the Rockefeller Center during the Christmas of my first year in the United States. I spent a few minutes looking at it. This time, I was there…rockefeller_center_christmas_tree_2016_31016740890Photo above: courtesy of Michael Vadon  – Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree 2016, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53846645

Featured Image: Toys Store courtesy of Dan Nichifor, http://www.etimpu.com

Doll images: own

Photos not labeled: http://www.pixabay.com

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