Magic for Christmas
[b]On the eve of Christmas and New Year, Gomel City History Museum hosts master classes on manufacturing ancient fir tree decorations[/b]The New Year arrived at the Kitaevy house in early December. Parcels of crepe paper appeared on the table, alongside gold ribbons and cotton wool. Each year, two weeks before the holiday, Eleonora returns to her childhood to decorate the fir tree with hand-made decorations, as she was taught to do by her grandmother in the early 20th century.
The New Year arrived at the Kitaevy house in early December. Parcels of crepe paper appeared on the table, alongside gold ribbons and cotton wool. Each year, two weeks before the holiday, Eleonora returns to her childhood to decorate the fir tree with hand-made decorations, as she was taught to do by her grandmother in the early 20th century.
At that time, the family was big and noisy. Her father was a doctor and her mother worked as a medical assistant. They had three girls. However, her grandmother — Varvara — was the ‘epicentre’ of entertainments. She wasn’t usually very talkative but, as soon as she began telling a story, she spun her tale seemingly without end, enchanting her audience.
“Varvara’s father (our great grandfather) headed a border station in Central Asia,” Eleonora explains, showing me her family photo album. “He died when Basmachi attacked. Our grandmother and her sisters were sent to Smolny Institute, where they were taught sciences and household duties. Varvara was a clever student and later passed her learning on to us. Each New Year was always very special.”
Eleonora remembers the fir trees of her youth well. “The adults used to place a fir tree in a remote room without windows, so that nobody would see it,” she tells me, while gluing a nose to a cotton snowman. “Candles were fixed onto the branches. When they were burning, the bitter aroma of pine filled the house. Being small girls, we used to go to bed early, while our mother and grandmother made toys until late at night. There was no opportunity to buy them at that time.”
Waking on January 1st, the children would investigate their pillows and stockings, placed over chairs the night before. They were always delighted to find toys and sweets there. Then, they would run into the room where the fir tree stood, covered in wonderful decorations, including parcels of nuts and sweets for the girls.
Later, as the wife of a military man and mother to two children of her own, Eleonora kept up her family traditions. The New Year was celebrated as of old, with sweets under pillows, hand-made decorations on the fir tree, surprises, competitions and a house full of children. These noisy celebrations have now moved into the houses of her children and grandchildren. However, Eleonora still likes to make a couple of fir tree decorations before the New Year. It is a diligent occupation, requiring inspiration and time.
“My hands won’t listen to me as they used to,” she notes with a cunning smile while crumpling a small ball from a paper sheet. She sews it up with thread, covers it with a ‘miraculous’ mixture of flour, water, starch and glue and then solemnly announces, “Now, it needs to dry. A day of hard work will result in a wonderful snowman.”
It’s wonderful to be able to create ‘Petrushkas’ (a character from Russian folk puppetry), huts, ladies, vegetables and fruits at the age of 85. I touch her materials: carton, crepe paper, cotton… What else is used? Eleonora tells me that her grandmother used foil from tea boxes, as well as stickers and, even, eggshells.
Her grandmother’s poppers were the major attraction of their home shows. The children would wait, their hearts missing a beat. Silence prevailed until her grandmother took her home-made poppers down from the fir tree. Like a magician, she would let them off to reveal 1 metre long streamers, exploding with a loud bang. Party hats, sheep horns, cockscombs and hares’ ears were found within.
How did your grandmother manage to do this?
She used saltpetre and materials to hand.
Maybe we can try this?
It’s easy to make the hats but I don’t remember how to make the poppers.
For the first time, Eleonora is giving master classes to share her childhood memories. This year, Gomel’s City History Museum has organised unusual workshops, allowing us to learn how to make traditional tree decorations. Eleonora will be there, showing us the customs of the last century.
By Violetta Dralyuk