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Eating Christmas: Holiday food from a frozen town

This holiday season, This Show is bringing you true stories about — what else — food. And Regina Revazova shares how her family celebrates the winter holidays growing up in a frozen town on the other side of the world.

In a remote mining town called Udachny in the Sakha Yakutia Republic which is this vast territory that sits in the middle of Siberia — we didn’t have Christmases. I knew the term, it was Rozhdestvo, and I knew the day — Jan. 7, but we’d never talked about it. 

We didn’t have a church or any faith-based place in Udachny. Udachny — which means “lucky” — was built to be practical. No one lived there until 1955, and no one wanted to live there anytime after. That year, large deposits of diamonds were discovered by the Soviets there. The settlement was founded. 

About twenty years later almost two kiloton atomic bomb was detonated 98 meters underground near my town.

Twenty more years later my mom, who was a ticket lady at the airport, came home one day telling us she saw the first American in her life. He was leaving after a short research visit. He leaned forward, his big furry Russian hat covering the forehead, ears and eyebrows, looked at my mom and said in a heavy accent, “Get out. Do not stay. This place is poisoned.”

We stayed.

Jan. 7 was a regular day with one exception: it followed and was overlapped by the major holiday that lasted two weeks, the biggest celebration of the year — the New Year's night. That was the coldest season in our frozen town. 

We cooked all the fancy stuff: kholodets, or meat jelly, Pozi, or large Siberian dumplings with venison, vinegret, a salad with beetroot.

My family is originally from Caucasus — a region that sits between Turkey, Russia and Iran, south from Ukraine. Being from Caucasus meant we’d blend in traditional, in this case Georgian and Ossetic dishes: gozinaki or a honey and nut brittle, Kartofjin or Ossetian flat bread stuffed with potatoes and cheese. 

That’s actually how I knew what Christmas was, because of my Georgian grandmother thousands of miles away from our frozen “Lucky” town. 

No years of communism could oust Christianity out of her. I’d spent summers with her, in Georgia. When I was 23 and applied for my first and only visa to the United States, she said, “You’re not leaving without being baptized.” 

This came out of nowhere.  

 I protested. “Why? I don’t have any time left. And church people won’t do an emergency baptism on this short notice.”

“I’ll talk to the priest,” she said. “I’ll tell him you’re leaving for America and that Americans won’t allow you to celebrate Christmas unless we baptize you.”

“That’s not even true,” I said.

Two days later I was standing in a small, crowded, airless 800 plus year old church, in a long line of women, each waiting for her turn. I remember wiping the sweat off of the back of my neck, thinking: “Why would I even celebrate Christmas in America? Don’t they have New Year’s nights?  And, I’m coming back soon anyways.”

I received a paper confirming the act of baptism shortly after. I carefully packed it and brought it with me to the States. This Christmas is my sixteenth Christmas in this country and someone — I mean anyone — has yet to ask me for the paperwork to celebrate it. 

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