Sar shaj jivas, te na janas jekh avreske te odmukel?
How could we live at all, if we didn’t learn to forgive each other.

Forgiveness. It’s a huge part of this time of year for Roma – at least my fajta… in fact both dakeri thaj dadeskeri fajta. Of course, we didn’t have Thanksgiving in Europe, but we did have the run up to Karačoňa (Karachonya) – Christmas. It was really a big deal. My Maami (father’s mother) would start leaving food (generally bokeľi makoha – poppy seed cake) out on the windowsill way before actual Christmas week, hoping to appease any mule (spirits) who were around. My daj (mother) and I would clean everything in the house, even washing the walls and floors and bring lots of fresh greenery inside – sprigs of holly and evergreen, making small wreaths for candles, sprigs for windowsills and doors and walls, and small bouquets to gift to relatives.

My grandmothers, aunts, and older female cousins would start baking and buying/picking food way before the holidays. My baba (mother’s mother) made amazing pekadoro and šing (Christmas cookies – some shaped like strudel or crescent rolls) as well as heavy fruit cake. There was always a formal declaration around the beginning of December about who’s house we would go to, even though it was always the same!

My daj would call my baba and say, “kada berš avava ke tumende pre karačonja” – This year I will come to you on Christmas. It always amused me, as our location never changed!

As Advent began we’d light candles and were encouraged to think about forgiveness.

My dat and phral would go and get the jezulankos (Christmas tree) every year and decorate it. We would only get it a few days before Christmas (as we believed very strongly in the “12 days of Christmas” thing and it always had to be taken down by the 6th of January or it was considered very unlucky). We always had a fresh one. Usually we dug it up and kept it alive if we could. If not we used the tree for wood/mulch after January. The tree had a mixture of things on it – some more traditional and some all sparkly and decidedly not traditional!

As the holidays drew closer more and more family members would go visiting each other – passing gifts, cakes, cookies, and other food, and sharing drinks and stories, and of course songs. Any problems between family members were shelved it seemed (I’m sure it wasn’t that easy) but forgiveness seemed to have a ripple effect. My uncles would square off with each other and stare for a moment then laugh and slap each other on the back toasting loudly with a glass of whisky. My maami would berate her sons for not coming to see her often enough (even though they were with her every day!), but shower them with drink after drink and cookies and cakes galore. For their part, my uncles would sheepishly agree they were bad sons and toast her health enthusiastically.

When it finally came to Viľija (Christmas Eve) I was always very excited… we didn’t eat much that day. We’d spend time making more food for the next day and taking it to our relatives houses. Generally we’d have a plain meal at night – arminakeri zumin (cabbage soup) with potatoes and buns sprinkled with poppy seeds and milk. Often we had it just in our small famelija units, remembering our ancestors with candles and a prayer or small speech. We’d listen to music and … there was an air of excitement for the next day (often just called “baro džives – big day). 

But, I’ll leave this story here for now and share more as this month ends and December begins. The spirit of “Thanksgiving” here in the US just made remember our tradition of forgiveness and friendship and family over the holidays and I wanted to share that. So much about the Roma seems all negative and “sad” and I wanted to share some of my happiness.

Of course, I miss these traditions now as my grandparents and parents are no longer living and I am a continent away from most of my family. Still, Romanija is in my heart and I practice these things wherever I am~ especially with my husband and son 🙂

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