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While listening to a Hungarian Christmas song on Youtube, I suddently received a wave of memories from the distance of time: the Christmases of my childhood. It’s something undescribable, just like the way Christmas Eve was always celebrated in my family. As far as I remember, it was never about the externals but something you can only see when you draw back and take time to feel it. It was totally about magic, smelling the scent of the tree, being with my family while knotting Christmas candy in white wrap on long strings to hang on the tree, listening to Christmas music that was mainly about the birth of Jesus Christ and going to play in a nativity scene in the church and a local pensioners’ home… and in the evening entering the room where all my family and presents were while lightening all the sparklers on the tree.

But even well before Christmas I prepared for it for a long time, my family would make an Advent wreath every year and we would light one more candle every Sunday – I was amazed how the power of one single candle could bring so much light into the dark room and as more and more candles were lit I was told it’s just the way how the soon-to-be-born Our Lord brings light to the world, the light of love to where it is dark and cold and grief. We’ve had a figure of Baby Jesus lying in a manger and I prepared a dress for him of paper every year. We cut small pockets on it and every time I did something good I could fold one pocket on his dress. “The more pockets you fold, the warmer he will feel” said my dear grandmother and I did my best to act as good as I could during Advent time.

I read quite much as a kid and I found some children books about Christmas, written at the beginning of the 20th century when celebrating Christmas in a happy and prosperous way was mostly the privilege of the rich. The characters of those stories were mostly poor children who dreamed of a warm flat and a Christmas tree –  instead they were happy with whatever small things they would get and give. The stories have revealed how strange traits happiness had – sometimes it appears in situations of need and discomfort, soothing troubled souls, healing broken hearts and uniting families torn apart, at least, in spirit. Probably these moving pieces of children literature motivated me later to offer my help before Christmas to as many people as possible. I’ve been keeping touch with a family in need for years and I’ve been sending a Christmas package to them in every December, not because of the actual value but the human factor, because I’ve been hoping I could bring happiness to them. One more memory I’ve had is purchasing a handmade postcard once from a woman on the street right before Christmas. I still remember how she told be that her husband had just lost his job and how I thought she needed compassion from people the most, even if that means strangers. Yes, these inspirations are those that make Christmas still the most beautiful and touching holiday of the year for me.

Sometimes I hear people saying that for them, Christmas has lost its appeal and now they don’t find it anything else than a holiday coming with duties, spending money and dressing in a fake happiness to mime you are feeling totally content. Maybe the stories of our inner children are dying and the real meaning of Christmas might forever be lost… We are now living a too developed, happy and comfortable life and we have no chance for that strange kind of happiness that I experienced in my childhood readings. We don’t decorate our hearts anymore – “why would we? for the sake of a stupid religious holiday?” some may ask. Still, I’m afraid that with the sense of Christmas one dimension of the human spirit may also disappear.

And now this is the question – how can I save the essence of this human spirit to my yet unborn children? I have no videos from my childhood, only photos and the record of the Christmas music (luckily I could buy it some years ago on CD). And the books I’ve been reading.  I think however that the main thing I should give my children is the sense of wonder around this holiday. I would like them to feel what I felt, I wish they would bring the news of the great joy to the world and that they would understand that it’s a time of the year when others are more important than we are. And I’m hoping they will believe that the newborn Jesus really is born in our hearts every year when we love each other and the whole world on Christmas Eve.

These days I spend a lot of time sitting on suburban trains and while the train is dashing along the tracks sometimes I get flashes of memories – from my childhood and teenage years – in my mind. They are complete memories, I see pictures, feel scents and sometimes flavours, I can feel “effects” – the sunlight or the wind around me, I hear voices from the past years, each belonging to a family member or friend, or even to me.

I remember myself, the troublesome sleeper, building up Budapest every day with Ádám, from kindergarten, when all the kids, except us, were sleeping after lunch. I can smell blackcurrant tea and yellow roses and I know the joy I felt when I saw that those red trumpet-like flowers, climbing up the fence, started to bloom. I see myself trying to get little pebbles out of my sandals and in the winter playing with one of my classmates in the early winter evenings in the primary school garden, glazing at the round shaped lamps that spread their supernatural glows over the empty street, while our parents were meeting the teachers inside.

I recall the flavour of those fruit-based ice creams and vanilla cream waffles I used to eat on the Balatonföldvár lakeside and the mysterious 20th August nights when we were walking to the harbour to watch the usual fireworks, looking at the people and the stuff the bought: flashing horns, wands and pins to show off their jolly spirit, maybe as a contrary to the dark indigo coloured water that was calm, as always. As a little girl I know how proud I was when I could leave the house alone for a walk, those times I always went to sit on a bench near a small grassy area, to watch people passing by, and also I went to shop for some yoghurt to a nearby small shop (that has closed since then). I still feel the smell of new pine furniture and that of the OBI in Siófok that, me having turned older, we visited often after building up the new weekend house. “Natural” smells just as that of the paints and wet soil in the gardening section mixed with the joy I felt to see the house turn prettier.

Whoosh. Then my soul feels again the ample and warm feeling that I felt after summer holidays began. The first days I always started in a dizzy kind of euphoria like a lunatic who isn’t even aware of herself. I rambled around the streets of hotness-struck Budapest, sitting on the metro, going to IKEA… a lot of familiar impressions, colours, smells and sounds yet it is so hard for my mind to recall them exactly.

But maybe the silent irreality of autumn can make me remember more… The first autumn when we were in Balatonföldvár, in the new house. We had no electric heaters back then, so we used those with gas and oil. I went to collect branches for our Advent wreaths (or maybe that was in another autumn?) to welcome winter and the birth of baby Jesus for whom, many years before, me and other children sang “Gloria, in excelsis Deo!” so often and so purely in our church.

And not to forget about recent years – high school days passed and I graduated. The graduation ceremony passed, with lots of flowers, singing “Gaudeamus igitur” and “Bravo, bravissimo”, just to be followed by Maths, Hungarian language and literature and History exams (I had already done the English and the facultative one – I chose Geography – in 2005,  one year before)

I could of course continue this to eternity – with listing those music pieces that bring the most memories out of me, writing about my childhood travels and then about my wonderful visits to Germany (Cologne) and Poland… but that’s not necessary. Most of them are feelings anyway and as they are feelings, they cannot be transformed to characters nor a post very easily. But maybe, maybe… if you are doing such things – seeing flashing pictures in front of your “inner eye” – think of me if you remember this post. 🙂

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“My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there” and “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list”

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