Daddy run, ruuuuuun. I’m just few years old, Daddy took the old sleigh out of the attic and we are both running. Daddy wears a fur hat – the famous Russian model, so often used in the eastern Europe in the 80’s. I’m staying on the sleigh, he is running, it’s snowing with big snowflakes, “fat” snowflakes, that’s an expression kept from the early years in the city of my childhood. I raise my face to the sky, open my mouth and try to catch a fat snowflake. Daddy is laughing, then takes me out of the sleigh and throws me on his shoulders. The sky is closer now, daddy, I want a fat snowflake, open your mouth, laugh, look, there are soooo many, Dady, ruuuuun, ruuuuun.
We are living on the 4-th floor, the last one in one of the many communist blocks of flats, all the same. It’s awfully cold – Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian dictator, decided the country should make economies to pay the external debt. The population is paying this way. Daddy succeeded in making a metal stove at work, we are all around it, dressed in thick overalls and blouses. In the living room, on the closet, green bananas are put in newspaper files – until they are ripe. “You should go to sleep”, parents insist, but I don’t want to. You know, that moment when you could find anything to do, but anything, just not to have to go to sleep. Because it’s December 5, and during the night Saint Nicholas is coming. It’s the start of winter holidays – and you have to put your boots on the window, and he will come during the night and put the gifts into them. And the traditional small branch covered with artificial snow and decorated with collared ribbons. But I had never seen him – I insist – every year he comes while I’m sleeping. And yes, every year we have this attempt not to sleep, that always ends by going to bed. But then, in the morning, first way is there. Wearing pajamas, with naked feet, without realizing how cold it is. “Look, mamma, he came, looooooook”. And that incredible joy discovering not much, but the surprise, and something new, a new doll, some sweets – so good when you could find almost nothing in markets.
Granny, are we going? Haiesti is my grandparent’s village and it’s my precious heaven. It’s Christmas Eve, we wake up 5 o’clock in the morning, get new clothes – on Christmas and Easter, always – and walk through the heavenly snow 3 kilometers, to the other side of the village. Each family takes a basket in front of his yard, and puts something in it – apples, biscuits, bagels, gingerbread, pears – something to offer. We have big bags made by Granny from homemade canvas, “bigger the bag than the child”, people laugh. We stop to every gate – Good morning, people are laughing, red cheeks, some wearing traditional clothes. The street is full of children, of laughter and of joy. Pure happiness. Home, we are anxious to look what we’ve got. Empty the bag – Granny, looook. That pure joy, that moment. Few hours after, we forget about it.
Haiesti, the magic. Old oven built in the yard, Granny is making “cozonac”, the traditional Romanian cake for holidays. I’m running around – you are never allowed to cut it while it’s hot – “it will fell down”, Mamma says. Granny takes them out one by one, smells like in heaven. Then, the surprise. A very small one, made in a saucepan. Granny, and angels looking at you through her wonderful eyes. “This is yours. You can eat it now. Hot”.
Haiesti, the magic for always. We are on a small hill, with an old sleigh. Up and down, up and down, Granny, one more time, pleeeeease. Then back home, our wet clothes put on the old stove, to get dry. A song is heard, slower at the beginning, then louder as it gets closer. “Colinde”, traditional Romanian Christmas songs. Young people dressed in traditional Romanian costumes enter the yard. Granny, when I will grow up I want to go through the village, like them. Of course you will. The house smells like apples baked directly on the old stove. Her eyes, the angels, Grandpa, pure happiness. My heaven.
Five o’clock in the morning. We finally get from the airport to our small house in the idyllic land called Marginimea Sibiului, in central Romania. We are expats – who would’ve thought? It’s snowing with fat snowflakes, like in my childhood. Are you coming? – my husband asks me. Right away! I look up, to the sky, open my mouth, laugh, succeed in hunting a fat snowflake, then the second one. Grandma and Grandpa are now up there, throwing with fat snowflakes over my face, into my mouth, white blessing over my heart. Mamma and Papa happy in the yard, big hugs, the smell in the house, “cozonac”. Now we are allowed to cut it when we want – and I almost see the steam, the cake is as hot as my heart, it tastes like fat snowflakes, and baked apples on the stove, and fresh milk, and Granny’s love. Looking through the gifts exactly then, 5 o’clock in the morning. Same joy. The next day, children dressed in traditional clothes open the gate. “Can we come with colinde?”. In the old church, Christmas service starts.
Granny, where’s the old sleigh?