It’s the most wonderful time of the year…
Even though I have been living in NYC for the past seven something years Christmas is still a bit of a mystery to me. You see growing up in Russia New Year was always a bigger deal… Oh how Russian people adore New Year, everything gets special attention, from foods, to decoration, to new year’s outfit, everything is in accordance with the New Year symbol (the year of rabbit and what not, I think this coming year is the dog one) we are superstitious this way… So many holiday traditions and make a wish techniques. Christmas is on the other hand gets blurred in. In Russia Christmas is January 7th - so if you are celebrating since December 31 by the time Christmas rolls in everything is a blur…
Oh and Christmas tree, in Russia the tree is meant for the New Year. It gets the same decorations and everything, but the main purpose of it is to be there so Ded Moroz (Santa) can put gifts under the tree and that actually happens on 31st.. So it’s always so surprising for me to see poor, rejected, perfectly normal Christmas trees lying on a sidewalk as early as December 26th… Every year I am thinking of saving them, but I live in a small apartment on a 5 floor walk up … so it is not going to happen.
I had many Christmases in U.S. but somehow, I always feel like I might be doing it wrong, like when are you supposed to have big dinner? Christmas eve or Christmas Day? when do you open the gifts, what do you cook? one year I ended up having dinner at Chinese restaurant ( which was pretty good), the questions are plenty. Since all of my american friends are going home for Christmas, I never get to find out how do americans do it, the proper, traditional, family way, so I make up my own…
This year me and bunch of friends rented a house upstate, around Woodstock. Thanks, airbnb… The place was beautiful, spacious and airy, surrounded by nature, something we all need to escape to after concrete jungle that NYC is… We enjoyed some quiet time, fire place/cabin living and played board games. Your girl lost miserably in the monopoly game, I manage to lose all my streets, houses and got to jail a bunch of times, the only card that was always mine was - “you won 10$ in a beauty contest” ironic, huh, despite that I had tons of fun, plus I finally get to decorate gingerbread house. It is one of those random things… I have been looking at those gingerbread house decorating kits for 7 years now and I always wanted to do that, but no one ever wanted to do that with me, so this time, I decided to do it on my own, got a bunch of helpers with demolition/eating part tho. So happy I finally get a chance to do it! Next thing on a list - piñata! hopefully that won’t take 7 years …
We also explored the area a bit and found Tibetan Monastery in a Catskills. The setting was simply beautiful, afternoon sun beaming thru the trees and prayer flags waving in the air, being a Buddhist I took it as a good luck sign…
Christmas day we woke up to the a Winter Wonderland situation outside the window, it snowed all night and everything was covered with a nice, crispy, sparkling snow. A white Christmas indeed, good luck signs all around.
I still believed it was a good luck sign, even tho, it turned out that our car got a flat tire somewhere along the way and we were faced with the challenge of dealing with this on a Christmas day. Riding all the way from upstate to NYC on a “doughnut” was a bit of an adventure. And here is a curious part - people were generally concerned with us and our car, when they would see us on a rest stops, they’d offer us a pump to put more air in the spare wheel ( everyone seemed to think we need more air), they’d shake there head in concern and wish us a safe travels and this was really nice and sweet of them, but when I called many many many tire repairs and body shops along the way, no one was willing to help, granted most places were closed due to the holidays, but even those who picked up the phone, did not want to deal with me, they would generally try to shake me off, give me someone else’s phone number or just flat out say - there’s nothing they could do. My, in my opinion, golden argument - “but it’s Christmas” and we got a flat tire and it’s cold and we need to make it back to NYC did not work at all… Most people were generally annoyed by me asking for help… I got so upset by all the rejection that I had to ask my friends to take over googling/calling duties. Finally we found one place in East Harlem. Thank you LUGO flat fix guys, you da best! So this story after all got a happy ending and we made it safe and sound.
Funny thing is that being exposed to Christmas culture mostly thru hollywood movies I really thought that - "it is Christmas" argument would work and someone (probably 6 foot handsome) will show up and help us all :D. Life is not a movie, of course, but you know what, I think we can make it better.
So no matter what you celebrate and how you celebrate, I hope you do it with the people you care for, I hope you are happy and peaceful and I hope we all be a little nicer to each other Christmas or not.
and as an admitted “Home Alone” lover - I live you with this:
“Merry Christmas, you filthy animals! and a Happy NEW YEAR”
Winter is here and for the third year in a row for me and my good friend Heide this means Winter Wishes time! In my very first blog post last November (Gosh… it has been a year already!) I talked about volunteering with New York Cares organization and all the reasons I love it.
You can check it out here if you’d like - www.dinarachetyrova.com/blog/it-is-the-season-for-caring
One of my favorite things at New York Cares is the Winter Wishes program, which, you guessed it, helps to make winter wishes come true for kids, teens and senior citizens, that due to different circumstances may not get Christmas gifts at all.
I absolutely love doing this! You get to be Santa for a bit and make someone happy come Christmas, what could be better? Can you think of a better way of getting into holiday spirit and feeling the magic of the season? After all the best way of experiencing magic is making your own.
To become a Santa for a season you need to sign up for the project in advance on New York cares page - www.newyorkcares.org/search/projects/results once volunteers read and process all the letter (what a little hardworking elves) you will be matched with a kid, teen or a senior. I personally choose one in each age group :) so I am getting 3 gift letters total.
Here is an exciting part - you are getting an actual handwritten letters in a mail. I am honestly really excited each time, because I never know what to expect and it is always so fun to read what people wish for. Kids are really sweet, they usually write to Santa and decorate there letters, so special!
Every year is different, this time around I almost got a heart attack because one of my letters actually requested diamonds and I think my heart skipped a bit, how in a world can I do that, I mean I never had diamonds myself and definitely am not in a business of buying some. Thankfully quick research revealed that my lady actually asked for a perfume, phew, this I can do. I was relieved….
I remember one of this years my friend Heide, who I am doing this project with (she has her 3 gifts and I have mine) got a request for an Easy Bake Oven. This was my first encounter with one of those things and it turned out those things are big, like really big and heavy. I don’t know why, but we decided to buy it first and then ended up logging that thing around all over shopping center and Herald Square, while buying the rest of gifts. Afterwards we met some friends for a drink in East Village and then another place and another one. Amazingly we didn’t loose any of the gifts and Easy Bake Oven made it out in one piece. Thank the Lord.
So you see, Winter Wishes are fun! Me and Heide usually buy gifts together, then we get together for a gift wrapping party with christmas music and cupcakes and friends (Jarah is a master wrapper, candy canes for everyone!) and then meet up again for delivering day - that’t when we rent a car and drop gifts off at the shelters, schools, community centers, you name it. I think in this three years we’ve been all over five boroughs.
We learn as we go. The very first time we rented the car too late in a day, it got dark very fast, it was raining and we managed to get lost on a way, we also didn’t think thru that most of this places will be closed after 6 p.m. so we ended up calling everyone in a panic mode, trying to figure out how late places will be open till and how many we can hit before we need to return the car. I think we ended up delivering only one or two gifts that time.
Now we are more prepared - getting the car early in a morning and with all of the locations mapped out. It’s a piece of cake.
The gifts are always different and we talk to each other, making sure that we get the most suitable once. This year for example I got a request for a bike for a 9 year old… as you can imagine bikes are super expensive, especially good once. We considered briefly getting a gently used one, but it is my believe that gifts should be brand new and used bike, might not be safe. So long story short we decided on a skateboard and a helmet, because you know, safety first. I do hope, my guy will be happy with the gift. I know how important bikes are for kids and you always hear this stories about childhood traumas, when they asked for a bike and got a mechanic chicken instead, but skateboard is no chicken, so I am hoping my kid will be happy with Santa this year.
It has been three years and this project turned out to be a tradition of ours. It is something I am looking forward to, it is what sets the mood and lets me know the time for wonder is here. It makes me so happy to know that I can help someone’s wishes come true, that I can give joy to someone, it’s a tiny spark, but it’s mine and that’s what helps ignite the holiday cheer in my soul.
If you wanna be a part of this or want to learn more about program you can do it here - www.newyorkcares.org/winter-wishes
P.S. How do you get into Holiday Mood and what are some of your traditions?
Many people have asked me lately about volunteering opportunities in NYC, so I have decided to write this short and coincidentally my very first blog post.
I myself started volunteering little over a year ago. Truth be told I was going through a rough patch in my life and felt like everything was spinning out of control and since my own life was so unstable and all over crazy I thought why not channel my frustration into something positive. Being able to help someone else in need gave me a feeling of taking control over something and seeing immediate result gave an instant validation. Sometimes when you feel hopeless in your own situation it is helpful to get out of your own head and start helping others. I am not suggesting you can fix their lives but you will make a difference, change starts with even smallest of actions. May be that’s why people been showing more and more interest in volunteering opportunities lately, when the world seem to be spinning out of control you can choose to look inwards and start with yourself, you can choose making change, choose love. In any event, if you’ve been wondering about ways to give back to community and looking for volunteering opportunities, but didn’t know where to begin or felt intimidated, this post is for you.
If you have a cause you are really passionate about you can seek out non-profits dediicated to that particular issue, they are usually pretty open and encouraging to people wanting to volunteer, you would find all the information on their related web sites.
If you know that you want to get involved, but not sure where you will be most helpful I would suggest New York Cares. This is an organization I am doing all of my volunteering through and they are making it super easy and convenient. All you need to do is register here - https://www.newyorkcares.org/volunteer
attend an orientation which you can do either at one of few locations around city or even on line and after your orientation you are good to go!
Find a project you are most interested in here - https://www.newyorkcares.org/search/projects/results
Possibilities are endless. You can work with kids or elderly, you can walk dogs, clean up parks, work at soup kitchens, food pantries or shelters etc etc… really there are so many different projects list goes on.
My advise would be to try as many as you can, so you can find what really works for you.
Also don’t wait too long before signing in for your first project, life gets in a way and sometimes you will find 6 month passed by and you are wondering what was that thing you once wanted to do.
There’s an orientation that takes place at St. Francis Xavier shelter center and usually people attending could stay for a project (shelter clean up) that’s a great way of starting, because you get to jump into action right away and see what it is all about, besides that you will be provided with the important information about shelter system in NYC, lots of things I never knew about, I can promise you, you may work out slightly dirty, but your soul will feel much brighter and you will feel like you are actually making difference.
Another great way of volunteering is getting involved together with your friends. Me and my friend Heide have this tradition now, every winter we are signing up for Winter Wishes program - getting Christmas gifts letters from underprivileged kids, teens and seniors. This is a tone of fun, you get to play Santa for a bit, great way of getting into holiday spirit. We are usually making 3 days of joy out of it. Buying gifts together, gift wrapping party and delivering gifts, Heide in a Packers - Santa hat since she is a driver and in charge, me in a reindeer antlers.
Signing up for projects is easy, you can do it on line and you will get a reminder from a team leader, along with all the useful information you may need for the project, if for some reason you can’t make it (hey, things happen, no one will judge you) just be sure to de-register on line so someone else will have an opportunity to step up, the show must go on.
Well this is pretty much it. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions, need more information.