The dance, music, colour and culture of Ukraine

As we celebrate Easter today, my thoughts are with my Canadian-born Ukrainian friends. Their Orthodox celebrations will be held next week and I’m sure they will be subdued this year. It’s hard to think of anything Ukrainian as subdued though. The memories I have of my Ukrainian friends are filled with color, music, dance and enormous pride in their culture.

I met these friends back in grade school, a melting pot where French & English Canadian children learned to read and write side-by-side with children of Italian, Polish, Ukrainian and other descent. I learned more about their traditions through them than any book could have taught me.

Easter, for example, meant that my Ukrainian classmates would be decorating Easter eggs. Unlike the clumsy creations most of produced, theirs were pure works of art. And no wonder. The technique is time-consuming and uses hot beeswax and dye to create ornate designs and patterns of breath taking beauty. Called pysanky eggs, the tradition dates back to the pre-Christian era when eggs were thought to have great powers including protecting homes from fire, preventing famine and ensuring good health.

One legend tells of an evil monster. The more pysanky people made, the tighter the chains were wrapped around the monster, keeping it at bay so that it didn’t destroy the world. It’s not much of a stretch of the imagination to put a face to that monster in world events of today.

There was no lying in bed or watching cartoons on Saturday mornings for my Ukrainian friends. Saturdays were for Ukrainian school and dance lessons. They didn’t seem to mind, though, because their parents had instilled such pride in their culture in them. And when the annual Christmas concert came around, the rest of us wished we could have gone to the dance lessons too.

The concert always had a Ukrainian dance number. It doesn’t do it justice to call it simply a dance number; it was performance-art. The girls would enter the stage to lively music as if they were skipping on air. They wore wide skirts embroidered in red, green and gold, a crown of coloured paper flowers on their heads with ribbons streaming behind and wide smiles. But it was their shiny red boots I coveted and loved best of all.

Then the boys would leap onto the stage in their Cossack pants tied at the waist with a satin sash. Their strength and athleticism was impressive. Squat kicks, pirouettes, split leaps -they did it all. These were my classmates – how did they all learn to do this?

The pride, resilience and strength of Ukrainian people has been on display for the world to see for more than 40 days now. So on this Easter day, my thoughts and memories are with them. May this conflict end soon.

P.S.: Whether you celebrate Easter, Passover or Ramadan – Happy Holidays!

Breaking with tradition

In keeping with our untraditional Christmas, there is no tree at our house this year. So, I am enjoying this photo of last year’s tree!

Yesterday was not a good day. I had myself a sublime pity party because we are on lockdown for the holidays. I stayed in my dressing gown for hours, moaning about the fact that Christmas without family was the saddest thing ever. Sorrow bubbled up and leaked from my eyes in the form of tears. They rolled liberally down my cheeks because I won’t see my kids over the holidays. Then, not to be outdone, guilt kicked in.

Let’s be honest. We all know someone who will break the rules and have loved ones around their table. But no matter how much I want to, I just can’t do it. I don’t want to be the one whose family member ends up sick, possibly even fighting for their life, because I wanted a traditional Christmas. I don’t want to be the one who gives frontline workers one more person to care for – because I wanted a traditional Christmas.  (They don’t even have a day off, never mind dinner with family.)  And honestly? I don’t want to be the one who gets the dreaded virus just because I wanted a traditional Christmas.  But that doesn’t mean I didn’t feel sick with guilt that we won’t be together because I’m a rule follower.

But today, all was right with the world again.  Christmas won’t be traditional, but so what? We’ll take a walk with our family (outdoor activities are allowed) or raise a glass on Zoom (I know, we are all so over Zoom, but it’s been our lifeline to others for months. What’s one more day?) And, if the stars all align the way we are all hoping they will, Christmas 2021 is going to be one heck of a celebration.

Happy Holidays!

(Written for “Word of the Day Challenge” for December 20th: Sublime)

Trick or treating cat

Spiders, goblins, black cats and ghosts

The witching hour is very close.

Vampires, monsters & skeleton bones

No longer rest beneath their tombstones.

Together they roam the darkened streets

In the never-ending search for treats.

Gory, scary things most nights of the year

Tonight make us grin from ear to ear.

October 31st is without a doubt our cat, Misty’s, very favourite night of the year.  Christmas is fun – it’s always nice to get a saucer of warm milk, a rubber ball or a squeaky toy – but nothing beats Halloween.

It all began one October 31st when my two kids, tired and happy after a night of trick or treating, emptied their treat bags onto the living room floor to sort their loot.  Misty watched from a safe distance as piles of chocolate bars, chip bags and candy in brightly-coloured wrappers began to form.

Eight-year old Erik closely examined a piece of hard candy and, discovering it was cherry-flavoured, (not one of his favourites) tossed it away.  It sailed across the hardwood floor with Misty in hot pursuit, until it reached its final resting spot on the other side of the room.  Intrigued, Misty waited with the patience of a hunter for his cornered prey to move again.  Finally, he tentatively extended a paw, quickly reclaiming it when the crinkly sound of the candy wrapper startled him.  After a few minutes of silent observation, he again extended his paw, this time giving the candy a good swat.  To his great delight, it glided across the floor and he happily bounded after it until it disappeared under the couch.

Laughing at his antics, the kids tossed him more candy, but inevitably, Misty’s newest ‘’toy’’ would disappear behind the refrigerator, under a lampstand or other unreachable places.  Eventually the kids tired of the game and refused to give up any more of their candy, but that didn’t deter him in the least.  Misty now considered their treat bags his own personal treasure trove of toys and soon learned to help himself.  When the kids left them unguarded, or when they were sound asleep, we heard the rustling of paper as Misty unabashedly climbed into the treat bags and claimed whatever bauble his little heart desired.

Soon the number of stray candies scattered around the house became unbearable, and the kids were told to keep their treat bags safely stored in their closets.  But eventually one of them would give him the golden opportunity by forgetting to close the door and, …well…, Misty was never one to miss an opportunity.

Yes, Christmas, Easter and birthdays are fun, but nothing beats Halloween.

Author’s Note:  This piece was written many years ago when my kids were young. Misty has long-since gone to cat heaven, but his Halloween legacy remains. Happy Halloween!