Winterval In Waterford
“My mother-in-law is coming to us this Christmas. She wants us to collect her… but we’re both working up until the 23rd!”
My Slovakian friend Viera was in a panic about the festive season and a 180-mile round-trip, in holiday traffic, to Kinsale.
“It will be busy on Christmas Eve,” I sympathized.
“But Slovakian Christmas is the 24th. We need to collect her the 23rd… sometime between work and sleep.”
Now I fully appreciated my friend’s dilemma. In Ireland, Christmas Day is celebrated Dec. 25, and school and business calendars run right up to Dec. 22 or 23… leaving our growing Eastern European population with less time to prepare.
Viera went on to share with me how her Slovakian family celebrates Christmas in their apartment in Waterford City…
On Dec. 24, after the family rises, and while the kids are getting washed and dressed, Santa comes to leave wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree. When the kids are showered and dressed, Viera rings a bell—signaling that it’s time for the rest of the family to enter the living room.
But these scrubbed-up children don’t just race to the tree and attack their gifts. They must wait until after dinner. And dinner is a special family affair…
First, the table is laid out with candles and festive decorations. With Christmas music playing, the family, in its finery, sits down to a feast of Slovakian Christmas staples—sauerkraut soup with chorizo, bacon, and porcini mushrooms followed by baked salmon with a salad of potato, carrot, peas, gherkin, and homemade mayo. (Some Slovakian families will eat goose or duck accompanied by roast red cabbage and dumplings.)
Only after everybody has finished eating… and every dish has been cleaned and tidied away… does the family proceed to the tree to see what Santa has brought.
“We open one gift at a time,” says Viera. “With dinner behind us, we have all evening. There is no rush.”
A stark contrast to the 6 a.m. awakenings that most of us have become accustomed to as our children race to be first to the tree.
Christmas not only comes early to Waterford’s Eastern European community. It kicks off with the city’s month-long Winterval festival in the last week of November. With all the trappings of a traditional Christmas festival—markets, carousels, helter-skelter, ice-skating rink, horse-drawn carriage—Winterval also showcases the international community that Waterford City has become. The Polish Christmas Craft Market with its knits, preserves, and jewelry draws in shoppers, while its gingerbread workshops are a hit with kids.
Last weekend, our son Neal, 9, had an important Winterval duty. Along with a bunch of fellow students from Waterford Academy of Music and Art, he donned an elf costume and paraded through the city, heading for the giant Santa postbox in the main square.
As the elves made their way, a young band played Christmas songs for the waiting crowd. Through the singing and swaying, our emcee announced that the elves were here to collect the mail…
But there was a problem. When the emcee opened the door of the postbox, the volume of letters was too much for the elves to carry away in the trailers of their two mini quad-bikes. They were going to need some help from the children of Waterford to shrink the letters down to size.
The kids cupped their hands as Neal and his fellow elves doled out “magic dust.” When they were called, the gang moved to the postbox… and, after a countdown, threw their magic powder at the box.
Following a drumroll, the emcee opened the door once again. This time, through a cloud of dry ice, we saw two small sacks… a perfect fit for the elves’ trailers. The kids cheered and waved the elves, the quad bikes, and their letters goodbye.
We’ll be back to watch the magic over the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, Neal waits in the hope of seeing his name appear on the elf rota again.
I hope he gets his wish.
As I hope Viera’s mother-in-law makes it to Waterford to celebrate Christmas with her family in their newly adopted home, in their own way.