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Dec 2009 Newsletter

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The RWD Newsletter
December 2009

In this edition:


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Cultural Exchange - Part 10

Russian Souvenirs

Upcoming Events


Happy Holidays to All RWD Members!

I hope this Newsletter finds all our members well this Holiday season. My wish for all is that the 2009 Holiday season be one of great warmth and joy surrounded by those you love and celebrated with great zest and vigor.
I know several of our members have experienced a difficult year in 2009, and the holidays are often poignant reminders of pain and loss suffered throughout the year. For those suffering, may this holiday season be a season of productive reflection and inspiration for the future, and may you conclude the holidays with a renewed spirit and full of hope for a bright future.

Be sure to check out the 'Name Days' in the
"Upcoming Events" section below. This one is especially significant to me, as my daughter's name day occurs in December and she is now at the age where it will be significant to her. I look forward to her rapt attention as she listens to me, and more, to her Mom, explain the significance of the day and its origins and traditions in Russian/Ukrainian life. I hold the belief that loved ones should celebrate every event possible as a means to remaining connected and bonded throughout life's many trials. Celebratory opportunities are few, even when they are sought. Take advantage of EVERY opportunity to let those you cherish, know you cherish and adore them - and Name-Days are a perfect opportunity.

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Cultural Exchange
Part 10

A Holiday is a Holiday…Right?

It is late, after a long and successful day where eight of us just finished stuffing ourselves (excuse the pun) with Turkey & gravy, mashed potatoes, salad and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. Now that this has passed, we begin to prepare for Christmas by decorating Christmas trees, searching for gifts for our friends and relatives as well thinking of something special for our dear ones from FSU.

This year my husband and I organized a Thanksgiving feast for the entire family, and, in the process, this got me thinking about what holiday differences and similarities exist between Russia and America. Having grown up in Russia, I had no idea what Thanksgiving was up until I came to work and live in Canada. While we do not have anything similar to Thanksgiving, I find it a fascinating holiday due to the fact that families make such an effort to get together, often traveling many miles to share the day or weekend together. I have learned to appreciate this holiday and the traditions that come along with it. Taking time to read about Thanksgiving and immersing myself in the act of finding recipes for our Thanksgiving meal which, of course, was cooked with some Russian flavor, made it a great success.

Christmas is a common holiday celebrated in Russia, but there are major differences one needs to remember. Russian Orthodox Church follows old Julian calendar; hence it celebrates Christmas on January 07 instead of December 25. For Russians December 25 is a regular working day, one of the last left prior to holidays, so do not expect your friends from Russia to attach the same meaning to your Christmas Day. While many traditions are similar to those in the West, Russians save the biggest celebration for New Years Day where we also exchange gifts. We decorate the “Christmas tree” for the New Years and in Russian it is simply called “fir tree”, thus it does not have the meaning of being a symbol for Christmas. Christmas, however, is gaining more popularity with each passing year due to our newly rediscovered freedom of religion. There is one interesting holiday that has no counterpart in the US. We call it the Old New Year. Even though it is not state holiday, come January 13th it is widely celebrated. It is the date when New Year starts according to Julian calendar and, for any Russian, an excuse for an extra holiday is mandatory!

Mother’s Day in United States does roughly have its equivalent in Russia where we honor the so-called International Women’s Day on March 8th. While the American holiday pays tribute to mothers, this day in Russia is devoted to women and girls of all ages. We all get flowers and special gifts on this day (hint!).

Father’s Day in United States can be compared to our Day of the Defender of the Fatherland, celebrated on February 23rd and devoted to all men. As military service is obligatory, every man, whether they currently serve as an active army force or whether they pass their military training in the course of receiving their higher education, is honored.

Veteran’s Day in United States is very special. While thinking of it, I can only compare it to the 9th of May, Victory Day in Russia. We celebrate victory of Russia in the World War II and all those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom in course of this war, while US commemorates veterans from various wars.

Labor Day has its equivalent in Russia, but is celebrated on May 01 and is called the Day of Spring and Labor. It used to have a big parade with music and balloons that I remember from my childhood. Later I learned that my parents did not really have an option on whether to go to this parade or stay at home. As a requirement for their jobs they had to be active members of the Communist party and participate in the parade. For me these are some of my fondest memories of childhood - as a very special spring sunny day comes, mom puts bows in my sister’s and my hair and we all march down the street with pride…

Holidays are important in every culture. While some holidays are similar in both Russia and United States, others are different and require understanding of culture to gain an appreciation. It takes some time to start having the “holiday feeling” for Thanksgiving, for example, when one did not grow up with it. With every year I live in the United States, though, I get more and more used to American traditions, which slowly become part of my own Russian-American culture and family. I urge you to make the effort to learn about the culture and context of the holidays for your significant friends as each of you will gain from the experience.

Tamara von Schmidt-Pauli at RussianWomenDiscussion.comTamara von Schmidt-Pauli is a native of St. PetersburgRussia who has been visiting, and living in, the United States and Canada since 2002. She holds bachelors and masters degrees, with honors, covering teaching of language and translation and currently resides in the greater Minneapolis area. Tamara is affiliated with Prime Language Services (

Russian Souvenirs

You're in Russia and you're thinking of getting your friends back home some gifts. If your first thoughts are vodka and nesting dolls, it's time to broaden your knowledge a bit. Here's a description of some authentic Russian souvenirs.

Russian Souvenirs - Shirts

The above shirts are called ‘vweesheevanka’…though I personally just call them, “Those Russian looking shirts.” These folksy, rustic designs date back hundreds of years, and you’ll often see people wearing them, especially on national holidays. There’s really no analogous piece of clothing in the U.S. Let 500 years pass, and then I suppose blue-jeans will have a similar significance. In any case, a quality ‘vweesheevanka’ is surprisingly expensive – you can spend $40 easily -- but the quality is very high, and they’re all done by hand.

Russian Souvenirs - Spoons

Though the scale might be hard to determine from the photo, the wooden spoons pictured above are easily a foot long. Hand painted, they are intended to be used and not merely hung as decorations (though if you buy one, wash it by hand and not in the dishwasher.) Each unique, they are things of beauty, but cost surprisingly little (especially when compared to those shirts). Figure about $5 per spoon.

Next up, the spiked Kazakh weapon called a boolavah! Only the head Ottoman warrior carried such a club. Though intended now just for decoration, the tips of those spikes are sharp as pencil points! It’s fun to hold, and you almost hope for a ruckus to break out, so as to find fair opportunity to wield it.

A great edible gift for someone would be a mound-shaped bread called 'karavai.' Though sometimes sweet, they are usually plain white bread. What makes them remarkable are the elaborate decorations on top, which are themselves edible. Karavai are consumed only at weddings, where they are torn into chunks and handed out to guests. A fair price for a large one is about $20.

So, forget those tacky nesting dolls, and the thoroughly predictable bottle of vodka. When you come to Russia or Ukraine, get something more authentic. Your friends will truly thank you.

Mark Thomson and DashaMark Thomson is an American living in Sevastopol, Ukraine with his fiance Dasha. After his divorce at age 35, he taught himself Russian and later moved to Sevastopol to master the language. He is the head writer and editor for the Japanese company, Unique Digital Publishing. His newest release, the RUSSIAN ACCELERATOR METHOD has been deemed "The ultimate course for beginners in Russian." (

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