Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Christmas Ornaments...made in Poland

I was tagged by my dear friend, the Headmistress of The Common Room, to share my favorite Christmas ornaments. Alas, alas. All my Christmas ornaments, favorites and otherwise, remain packed away, unused this year while we are in the States. They will be all the more welcome when we see them next year, of course.

However...did you know that most of the pretty glass Christmas ornaments are made in Eastern Europe, including Poland? Several years ago, K's preschool class took a field trip to one of the factories near Krakow, and we were invited to go along. All the children got to see how Christmas ornaments are made, and then paint an ornament to keep for themselves.

First, all these ornaments are "handblown." Each glass blower has a glass rod, which he heats in the furnace until the tip is hot enough to blow. He blows the glass into the desired size globes--just look at the pile of glass "bubbles" beside this worker. If the ornament is going to be shaped, rather than spherical, the bubble is blown inside a mold. Each ornament had a long, hollow glass tube coming from one end. This is used to handle the ornament as it is being decorated, and it will later be cut off short. That makes the part where the hanger is attached.

After the ornaments are blown, they are "silvered" on the inside. This involves quite a bit of shaking by an odd machine--I bet some of the ornaments break! After they are silvered, they are dipped in various colors of paint and allowed to dry. At that point, you could finish them off and have plain, colored Christmas ornaments. However, quite often they are hand-painted with additional designs--especially the shaped ornaments, but sometimes the round ones too. The children were able to choose the colors of the balls they wanted to paint and decorate.

E. painted the word "Redwall" onto her ornament.

You can buy these glass ornaments for fairly reasonable prices in Poland, and I usually buy one for each child every Christmas. Someday, they will have a nice collection of ornaments to remind them of growing up in Poland. I have a nice little collection of shaped houses--including a church--which I add to each year. Maybe I can show off our collection next year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Not about Poland this time

Okay, this is my first blog post that isn't about Poland, but about something else that I find interesting.

Before I launch into this story, it might be good to preface the whole thing by saying that I have, for years, been a crocheter of lace. I love to crochet with thread, and have made countless mats, doilies, ornaments, bookmarks, and whatever else you can make with thread. Most of the things I have made are scattered across the United States, since I travel a lot when I'm in the US, and I give away nearly everything I make.

On Saturday, December 10th, the whole family visited a historical community, where they were celebrating Christmas 1905. There were plenty of interesting activities and things to see, but the best part (according to me) were those who were demonstrating their crafts, all dressed in period costumes. I was especially fascinated by the tatters. I watched them for quite a while, and examined the things they had made. I was completely overcome with a single-minded thought: I have to learn to do this!

The ladies were kind enough to put me in touch with someone local who could sell me the supplies, and I gave her a call on the following Monday. I went right over to her place, and she was also kind--giving me a half-hour lesson for free. I bought a book, two colors of thread, and a shuttle, and went home more determined than ever to pursue something new.

Tatting is much slower than crocheting, and the work is completely different, so my fingers felt clumsy, but by Friday--less than a week from my original determination--I had finished my first actual project.

I had a bit of trouble learning to keep my tension even, but I think it's all figured out now, and I was able to complete my second project in a much shorter amount of time.

This is a wonderful new craft, and I'm happily visiting tatting sites all over the web, and thinking about the kind of projects I'd like to make...someday. My sense of satisfaction at learning a new skill is the best part--a Christmas present to myself.

And incidentally, I'm trying to learn how to put pictures on my blog, and it is much, much harder than tatting.

Friday, December 09, 2005

It's that time of year...

Or so many of my blogging friends have indicated.

Time, that is, to share our favorite Christmas music. Oddly enough, some of my favorite Christmas music is Polish. We first moved to Poland in July of 1997. By December of that year, we were fluent enough in Polish to say "excuse me," and "I don't speak Polish," along with "hello" and "goodbye" and "I am American." We couldn't say, "I am from the United States" because "United States" in Polish is fiendishly difficult (at first). It looks like this: Stany Zjednoczony. Don't bother trying to say it--if you ever go to Poland, you'll learn to say "I am American," like the rest of us, because that is so much easier.

But to return to my point, in December 1997, we didn't speak or understand much Polish. However, that did not stop us from enthusiastically purchasing Polish Christmas music and playing it all day long. We played it all day long, because it just sounded so Christmas-y. Even though we hardly understood any of it. This was and is one of my favorites. It's lively and fun. The words are simple enough in English and Polish, but it still sounds festive!

Dzisiaj w Betlejem, dzisiaj w Betlejem
Wesola nowina
Ze Panna czysta, ze Panna czysta
Porodzila syna

Chrystus sie rodzi, nas oswobodzi
Anieli graja, króle witaja
Pasterze spiewaja, bydleta klekaja
Cuda, cuda oglaszaja

Maryja Panna, Maryja Panna
Dzieciatko piastuje
I Józef Stary, i Józef Stary
On go pielegnuje

Chrystus sie rodzi, nas oswobodzi
Anieli graja, króle witaja
Pasterze spiewaja, bydleta klekaja
Cuda, cuda oglaszaja

And in English:

In Bethlehem, In Bethlehem,
Tidings ring triumphant!
Sweet virgin Mary, sweet virgin Mary,
Bore the Holy Infant.

Born is our Savior, Born our Redeemer,
Angels are playing, Kings tribute paying,
Shepherds all are singing, Sheep and oxen kneeling,
Lo! What wonder! Each proclaiming.

Another of our favorites is "Przybiezili do Betlejem"-- which in English is:

Quickly on to Bethlehem the shepherds came,
Playing gaily on their lutes to bless his Name.
Glory to God on Highest, Glory to God on Highest,
And on earth, Peace to men.

But oh, it sounds so much prettier in Polish!

Another one we all love is "Bog sie Rodzi" or "God is Born."

God is born on earth, powers tremble;
Lord, bereft of heav'nly splendor,
Lustrous flames fade, fires dissemble,
Infinite unending wonder!
Scorned yet clothed in radiant glory,
Mortal though he is Lord Jesus,
Thus the Word became the flesh,
Dwelling without end among us!

Why leave heaven for this bleak earth,
Heaven bright in all its glory,
To dwell humbly from day of birth,
To fulfill the prophet's story.
Lo, He suffered through our folly,
Mortal, though He is Lord Jesus,
Thus the Word became the Flesh
Dwelling without end among us!

We especially like this one, because in Polish the last phrase is really an exact quote from the Bible: "A Slowo cialem sie stalo i mieszkalo miedzy nami." (And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.) You can download a lovely version of this one here: Bog Sie Rodzi

These are so lovely that I wish you could hear them all sung in Polish, but you can hear the music for these and several other Polish koledy (carols) here:

Polish Koledy

Poles have all these lovely, lovely carols--and they are all very old. As far as I know, there are no "new" Christmas songs. Most of these are literally centuries old, and they still sound fresh and festive, and everyone loves to sing them. But not before Christmas!

Polish people have a "fast" during Advent--not unlike Lent--which lasts until Christmas Eve (Wigilia). Christmas music is generally sung and played beginning Christmas day, and so...because they like it and want to enjoy it for a season...they play Christmas music all through January. As much as I like Polish Christmas music, I just don't feel like singing carols (or koledy!) in January. So we listen to them during our "season" of celebration, along with our English favorites.

Every year, since 1997, Polish Christmas Koledy have been a part of our Christmas, and I suspect that will be the case for the rest of our lives--even if in the future we don't live in Poland. This year, our Polish songs are just another reminder of the home we can't wait to return to.

Merry Christmas--or rather--Wesolych Swiat!