On this Christmas Eve, in between watching Santa on the Norad Santa tracker and cooking up brownies to leave out, my mind goes back to a Christmas we spent in Budapest, Hungary, 8 years ago.
Hubby took some MBA classes at what was then called the Karl Marx School of Economics, and he had a wonderful history teacher. For a semester this teacher not only taught what was in the course syllabus, but also taught Hubby and I, off the clock, what life was like for he and his family during the Communist rule.
Now, I’d learned all about long Russian lines for fruit, bread, and milk while in Middle and High School. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, Russia sucks. I’m so glad I live here. We rule!!!”
A decade or so later, as I sat and listened to Tomas talk about one of his family’s greatest Christmases, I had a different response. He started off by saying that while he and his wife loved their 2 boys and would have loved more, in Hungary during Communism each child meant an extra job each for both parents to support it. He also mentioned that life was hard for an ‘intellectual’ at that time, and he constantly walked a tightrope between fostering learning and free thought, and maintaining the confining rules of those in command. He gave the impression that he was never sure if he’d be going home at night after teaching classes.
One Christmas he heard that a particular store in Budapest was getting in a shipment of bananas. Being a tropical fruit from beyond the walls of communism, bananas were rarely, if ever, seen there. His boys heard the rumors and begged for bananas for Christmas day. Tomas stood outside in the frigid December night air for hours and secured for himself and his family one banana each.
His eyes lit up when he recounted this. He laughed when recalling how his boys couldn’t believe that he actually got them each a banana…how they savored the exotic taste and ate them slowly. He ended by saying, “I know that you in America have bananas all you like. Even now, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we see more and more fruit and food in our stores. I know it seems a strange thing to have happiness over such a small thing! And yet, it remains that that was our best Christmas ever.”
Instead of feeling smug that I had never had to stand in line for a fruit, or had ever only gotten a banana for Christmas, I felt incredibly humbled. Which is the better road…having everything but being grateful for nothing, or having nothing but being grateful for everything?
So I sit here, eating Clementine oranges and green apples, thinking about gratitude and the spirit of Christmas. Thinking about Tomas parceling out bananas to a happy family.
Here’s to many merry Christmas memories tomorrow morning, and gratitude for our blessings!
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