*Culture Note: The title of this post is potentially misleading. In Georgia, Christmas is primarily a religious holiday and is celebrated on January 7th, according to the Julian calendar used by the Georgian Orthodox Church (though many other holiday celebrations occur in the weeks before that day). This post, however, is not actually about Georgian Christmas, but about my Christmas spent in Georgia.
Christmas began for me this year at 2 am on December 23rd when Giga, a taxi driver recommended to me by my friend and colleague Khatuna, pulled up in front of my house to take me to Tbilisi to pick up Ben from the airport ☺. (For whatever reason, it seems like most flights coming into Georgia from western Europe arrive between midnight and 5 am)! His flight arrived right on time, but his bag, however, didn’t make it (despite having had a 13-hour layover in Munich… Surely that should have been enough time to get it from one plane to the next, yes)?
We were back in Gori by 6 am, and I spent the morning doing final preparations for my last busy day of the semester. That afternoon would be the final meeting of the year for English “Coffee & Conversation” club, and, instead of a regular meeting, we were celebrating the club’s first semester at the university with a festive Christmas party. At the party we’d be playing a holiday-themed “board” game I had invented earlier that week and enjoying Christmas cookies that Betty and I had baked together for the occasion. In the early afternoon, I went to my weekly Georgian lesson and then immediately came back home to get Ben and the party supplies.
The party was a lot of fun. We had about 12 or 13 students attend, as well as several university employees, Ben, Betty, and Tamuna, Betty’s host mother. For the board game, I drew two candy canes on the board and created “spaces” with the red and white stripes. There were three different kinds of spaces you could land on: Conversation Card, Hot Seat, or Sing Along. If your team landed on Conversation Card, each team discussed a question related to Christmas or New Year’s traditions with their small groups. Hot Seat is a vocabulary game, and for this day, of course, we focused on holiday vocabulary. Finally, if any team landed on Sing Along, the game paused while everyone sang a popular and/or traditional Christmas carol together. (Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” was the most popular by far). If you know me, you know that I’m a terrible singer (it’s been verified!), so I was glad that Ben was there to lead the songs (and to take pictures). By the end, the game had almost completely dissolved into one big sing-along, which I’ll consider a success.
On Christmas Eve, Ben and I debated going to Tbilisi for a candlelight English-language Christmas Eve service. Christmas is my favorite holiday, and, until this year, it had always begun in exactly the same way: going to the candlelight Christmas Eve service at the church I grew up in with my family and then heading straight to my grandparents’ house for a big Christmas Eve party. With this being my first Christmas away from home and away from family, I thought it would be nice to participate in at least a small part of the tradition. However, as Christmas in Georgia is celebrated in January and not December, there were no Christmas Eve services in Gori that night, so to go to a service would mean to travel to Tbilisi.
In the end, we decided not to go. To get from my house to the church in Tbilisi would have taken an hour and a half each way, and we didn’t really want to spend a large part of the evening sitting in a car. Instead, we decided to cook dinner and watch a movie. (Well, in reality, we decided Ben would cook dinner– he’s a much better cook than I am, though I’m always happy to help ☺). We made a list of what we would need to make chicken Parmesan and then set off to Smart, a supermarket chain in Georgia.
I don’t typically shop at Smart. It’s a very nice supermarket, but the one in Gori is about a thirty-minute walk from my house, and there are much closer local markets that usually have everything I’m looking for. But, as we needed to buy groceries for the evening, a few additional items for the next day’s Christmas dinner (e.g., three whole griller chickens and enough potatoes to mash for seven people), and some stocking stuffers (because, at this point, Ben’s suitcase, with all of the gifts from him, his parents, and my parents, still hadn’t shown up), Smart seemed to be a good choice.
It was cold and we were hungry, so we took a taxi to the store and did our shopping. We found another taxi to take us home and when it got to the house we gathered all of our many bags and paid the driver. As I was turning to go into the house, I noticed one more white plastic bag sitting on the floor in the back of the taxi. We had been holding our bags in our laps and I definitely didn’t remember putting any of our bags on the floor and neither did Ben, so I asked the driver, excited to use one of my new vocabulary words, chanta (bag):
“Es aris tkveni chanta?” (Is this your bag)?
He responded, saying, “Kargia, kargia,” (“It’s good, it’s good,” or something like that), so we left the bag and went inside.
We had been in the house for all of five minutes when I realized that the bag was NOT in fact his bag, but was my bag, with our chicken breasts for dinner that night, one of the griller chickens for the next day, all of the potatoes, and some of the stocking stuffers I had gotten for Ben’s stocking!
I also realized at this point that without appropriate intonation, “Es aris tkveni chanta?” becomes simply “Es aris tkveni chanta,” or, “This is your bag.”
Since I may have told the driver, “This is your bag,” I guess it’s possible he thought I was in a generous mood and was leaving him a gift. Or, perhaps and more likely, he actually thought the bag was his bag. Regardless, it was now easily 8 pm, we were hungry, and getting another taxi back to the store to get more boneless skinless chicken breasts seemed like too much effort.
Luckily, we had impulsively bought a box of frozen chicken nuggets, thinking it might be nice for me to have them in the freezer for a rainy day, so chicken Parmesan quickly transformed into chicken nuggets and spaghetti ☺. (I still thought it tasted quite good, though when Ben made actual chicken Parmesan sometime after Christmas, it was clear that the chicken nuggets were nowhere near as good as the real thing). Shortly after making dinner, Betty dropped by the house for a bit and the three of us watched a Christmas movie and drank peppermint white Russians– a very different Christmas Eve than years before, but nice nonetheless.
On Christmas morning I had a few of my ideas about Santa Clause redefined. I had always imagined him to be the jolly man with a big white beard wearing a red and white suit who delivers gifts in a sleigh and comes into the house via chimney, but this year I discovered he is actually a Georgian man named Shalva who delivers gifts in suitcases and knocks on the gate to let you know he has arrived!
I’m only kidding of course, but on Christmas morning, Ben’s suitcase finally arrived, just in time. Shalva, who works for the US Embassy and is essentially my landlord, had graciously gotten the suitcase for us when the airport had called to say it was out for delivery but that the driver was concerned there may be trouble getting it to us because of the language barrier.
Once the suitcase arrived, we spent the morning relaxing, making breakfast, and exchanging gifts. Later that afternoon a group of assorted Americans (to the tune of the Twelve Days of Christmas: “3 P-C-Vs, 2 T-L-Gs, and an-unaffiliated-guy-in-a-pear-tree!”) came over for Christmas dinner. We had a fabulous meal and then spent the evening playing Geoguessr (check it out if you don’t know it and you’re a geography nerd or a world traveler) and TransEuropa (my favorite).
The day ended the same as the night before—watching a Christmas movie and enjoying peppermint white Russians with friends. In the end, even though it was a somewhat unusual Christmas for me, Christmas in Georgia was a very good Christmas indeed.