Czech Christmas at the Palas
Note: This account of Czech Christmas contains excerpts from my memoir “Greenwich Meridian” © about the family immigration saga from former Czechoslovakia to the USA dedicated to my mother Ella.
By Emma Palova
EW Emma’s Writings
Lowell, MI – I carefully set my foot on the American soil for the second time on Dec. 22, 1989 at the frozen John F. Kennedy airport in NYC. I had two children by my side: daughter Emma, 10 and son Jake, 2.5.
With a shaking hand, I signed off on the US resident’s green card long before (Transportation Security Agency) TSA came into existence.
The night had already set in on the city with its million lights and bridges.
Before we headed out west like the early settlers, we stayed overnight at my parents friends’ house for some respite from the travel across the Atlantic.
Our Christmas tree 25 years later in Lowell.
25th anniversary of arrival to the USA
In the meantime, my husband Ludek was waiting for us in Montreal, Quebec. He received immigration visa to Canada, while I received mine to the USA.
After two days on the road in a frosted car on the deserted turnpike, we arrived at our destination: the college town of Big Rapids in Northern Michigan on Christmas Eve.
Mom Ella had already prepared everything ahead of time as we picked up brother Vas in Roger’s Heights for my first Christmas.
Later, in the early years around holiday time, I would drive to the Gerald Ford International Airport in Kentwood and nostalgically dream about hometown Christmas in Czechoslovakia with all its magic under the chestnut trees. That meant treasures bought at the Zlin Christmas market. I brought a piece of that Christmas magic with me to the new country in 1989. This included the hand-crochet yellow doilies for afternoon high tea and tablecloths made by ladies from Slovakia.
Whenever I get homesick, and I still do, I pull these treasures out of their drawers at our Pala homestead in Lowell. I try not to use them so I can preserve them forever. I usually have a story attached to whatever I keep, and my adult children and friends can attest to that.
I think of that time long ago at the market under the chestnut trees. It must have been that first bronze shopping weekend in Advent when I walked past the booths with silver and golden coated mistletoe all piled up into these pyramids.
I was immediately drawn to a lady dressed in a folk costume called “kroje.” She was always there also on Saturdays throughout the year. I wish I had asked for her name.
“I am looking for a Christmas present for my mother,” I said.
“What does she like?”
That made me think; what does my mother like? Do I know her?
I picked up the yellow hand crochet doilies set and admired the craftsmanship that would become lost art. I looked up at the woman with an old wrinkly face from the sun in the Slovakian highlands.
“How much are they?”
“Your mother is going to love them,” she smiled as she held up the biggest met for the coffee table.
I was a student at the time, and I didn’t have a lot of money.
I remember exactly, they were 220 Czech crowns which was a lot of money for anyone to pay for a fancy fragile cloth.
“I’ll take them,” the lady wrapped them in a brown paper.
At our Southern Slopes apartment, I hid them in a closet. The Sunday after we came home from church, my mom made festive dinner and we sat down for desserts in the living room. We reserved Sunday afternoons for guests. Mom, like most women in the old republic, always baked for the weekends, not just around Christmas.
“You’re such a bake nut,” aunt Anna always laughed at mom because she was jealous.
I noticed the old worn-out coffee table met.
“Mom, I got something for you,” I said.
“Why? What is it?” she asked.
I came back and gave her the Christmas gift wrapped in brown paper three weeks early.
“That’s beautiful, but why?” she pursued. “It’s not Christmas yet.”
“Because I can’t wait for you to have it,” I said smiling. “I would die waiting. Please, please take it.”
That little episode still brings a smile to my face. Mom Ella knew how much I loved that set. When she moved permanently to the USA to join my father Vaclav in 1980, she left the yellow doilies set at home.
“Mom, you forgot your yellow tea crochet set,” I said in a phone call months later.
“I know, I left them for you.”
Merry Christmas 2016 and a sincere thank you to all my followers.
May peace prevail on Earth.
Czech Christmas to be continued……….Excerpts from the “Greenwich Meridian” © 2016-2017
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