Fri, Dec 9, 2022 9:21 AM
At home in Blenheim, Eufrasia Peneres is delighted to be preparing to celebrate her third Christmas with her Kiwi husband. While she can’t wait to spend time with her family here, a video call to her family in Brazil is a must on the big day. “Now I have two families, the Brazilian family and the Kiwi family. I believe that all of this was prepared by my God Jehovah. He brought me to New Zealand, and He has taken care of me and my families down to the smallest detail. I love living here in Blenheim.”
While her children, Daniel and Patricia, are grown up, she happily recalls their Christmases together in Brazil. Decorating their house to shine among others on her street. Every year she’s had a different Christmas tree, “I made different Christmas trees that I decorated with angels, coloured balls, stars, gifts and flashing lights.”
A groaning Christmas Eve table offered up a feast for the family and their friends in Brazil, Eufrasia explains. Cooked meats, roasts and salads were enjoyed followed by many different desserts.
“At midnight there were fireworks, then we prayed to God, exchanged gifts, popped champagne, and ate. The neighbours came to wish merry Christmas, they were wonderful moments, at this time here I miss them a lot,” she says.
Last year, the family ate a Christmas picnic in the park, celebrating the day on December 25 and not on Christmas Eve took some getting used to for the customer care employee. She is also quite taken with the tradition of Christmas stockings she admits.
“I found the Christmas custom in New Zealand different from Brazil, for example, on Christmas Day it is celebrated with the family in the park with the exchange of gifts and a big picnic. In Brazil I never used the Christmas stocking, I found it interesting in New Zealand.”
As her thoughts turn towards the end of the old year, Eufrasia too has a wish for the world, “I hope that this Christmas and the New Year 2023 will be a year of good health, peace, without hunger, without wars in the world and a lot of Faith in God Jehovah.”
“We believe that Christmas Eve is a special night and at midnight all animals talk and they are able to tell you their dreams and wishes."
When Ewa Zielinska was a little girl, she twice woke up to discover a twig under her pillow.
In Poland, the festive season’s celebrations begin with St Nicolas’ Day on December 6, when children who have been good all year can expect presents under their pillow. Those less well behaved are gifted twigs.
Three weeks later Christmas Eve is celebrated. It’s a special night, a night of magic, dreams and wishes. For Ewa, whose name translates to Eve in English, the day is particularly memorable as it also marks her Name Day. In Poland, name day or imieniny is more important than one's birthday, the tradition originates from the Christian method of associating each day of the year with the names of one or more saints - the Calendar of Saints. Babies are often named after a saint whose feast day was closest to the date of birth or baptismal date and on that day they are honoured. “It is a double special day for me as it is my Name's Day. People would come to wish me Happy Name's Day and Merry Christmas at the same time. I'd get flowers and chocolates in the morning and a present from Santa in the evening. Lucky me!”
Christmas Eve is a night of enchantment for Polish people, with midnight marking a very special time, if you can stay awake that long, Ewa laughs. “We believe that Christmas Eve is a special night and at midnight all animals talk and they are able to tell you their dreams and wishes. As children we used to really want to stay up till midnight but somehow, we never lasted. The next day mum and dad or granny and auntie would pass on to us the dog's or cat's wishes for the year.”
For 22 years, Ewa, has been spending time between Poland and Blenheim, where her partner’s family are.
It is with the Blenheim family she expects to celebrate Christmas, albeit differently from the usual festivities in Poland.
While her hand-created driftwood Christmas tree will be centre stage here, the tradition is different in Poland, Ewa explains. “I make my Christmas tree out of driftwood here in New Zealand. I decorate it with handmade decorations, beach plants and lights. I think it is so beautiful and unique.
“[In Poland] we usually decorate the Christmas tree after breakfast and start getting ready for the evening celebrations. The table is covered with a white cloth and underneath it we put hay as a symbol of Jesus in the manger.”
Around the table, family and friends gather. People take the chance to pray or to reflect. Christmas wishes are exchanged as people move around the table amid laughter and chatting. “Traditionally, the dining starts with the appearance of the first star in the sky,” Ewa says. “There are 12 dishes on the Polish Christmas table, a dish for each month of the year or the 12 apostles.”
Ewa smiles as she remembers Christmases past in Poland. “At my family home we would sing and play instruments until Santa delivers presents later that evening. He either comes in person for a brief moment or just leaves the presents under the tree.”
This year’s Christmas wish is simple, Ewa says. “I'm looking forward to having a great time with my children and hopefully catching up with family and friends. I also hope that the weather is going to be nice and warm and we will be able to go for walks and bike rides or just lay on the beach and catch up on reading.”
"Hristos se rodi' (Christ is born) to which it is answered: 'Vaistinu se rodi' (He is truly born)."
This will be the Fernandez family’s fourth Christmas in Marlborough. Moving here from Chile in 2019, Maria and her family will celebrate as they traditionally do, drawing on their heritage from Chile and Former Yugoslavia.
At midnight on Christmas Eve, the baby Jesus is carefully placed in the manger, the star is added to the top of the tree and the gifts left by Santa can be opened. It is very different from past celebrations in Chile where Christmas falls in January, explains Maria. “Christmas Eve is celebrated on January 6 and Christmas on the 7th, although the celebration extends to the 8th and 9th as well.
“So, on that day we exchanged messages with my husband's family and his friends with the expression 'Hristos se rodi' (Christ is born) to which it is answered: 'Vaistinu se rodi' (He is truly born).”
While past traditions remain important to the family, they have embraced some Kiwi ones too. The annual street parades have been a big hit, she says. “I like the parades they do downtown with bagpipes and delegations from the peoples of the Pacific.
I like that community atmosphere as well as the decorated houses that one can go through with the children through different neighborhoods, until one finds Santa.”
“Wine and strawberries, also an excellent idea,” laughs Maria who is looking forward to decorating her Christmas tree. “I have beautiful shells that I paint to make something typical of the coast and the South Pacific, the ocean that unites my country of origin with this one that shelters me today. We keep the tree and the manger until January 7, because in the Old Julian calendar that uses the Orthodox Religion, which is part of the culture of the former Yugoslavia, where my husband was born.”
Maria is looking forward to reuniting with her mother, sister and husband’s American based family in Chile in the New Year. “It will be a magical time,” she beams. As for her other Christmas wish, she hopes to see a more settled world.
“As Christians, may we move the world a little more towards a sense of community and solidarity, and integration.”