Hello, Children from around the world! Are you all writing your special gift-wishes to Santa Claus, Pere Noel, Mr. & Mrs. Weasel, Quetzalcoatl, Cthulu, Zizz X#56Hhsuzsi, or Nan-Cy Boy O’Reilly??? …what!? I haven’t told you about Nan-Cy Boy O’Reilly yet??....well, that’s another story for another time! But today, I want to tell you about the magic Yule trees of the Ukraine. That's where we get the funny little guitar called the Uke-relele. Can you say, "You-Cray-Lay-Lee"?? Our Ukrainian friends who live in a nice little town called Pripyat had a Christmas adventure many years ago….can you say “Prip-Yat”?? It means “Glows-in-the-dark”. Well, one day, all the papas and mamas (or батьки і матері, as the little ones call them!) went into the woods on December 24th or The Feast of the Talking Forest to gather the special Christmas trees for the Holiday. The tradition was that the elders of the villages would sing special songs and dance around the trees to ask the tree-spirits for their blessing before they were cut down. If the tree-spirits gave their blessings, then there would be mild whispering winds through the air almost like music and the squirrels and little birds would bring nuts, berries, lost coins, and stolen costume jewelry, and the grown-ups would know that the coming year would be full of health, prosperity, and good omens. That night hundreds of trees were cut down and dragged through the dark to cozy homes with toasty fireplaces and waiting children, singing loudly, clapping their hands, dancing and leaping, and breaking things. The trees were brought into all the front rooms, stood up and braced into waiting pots of fresh mountain water and spiced cider with cloves and raisins “to make them happy”, and decorated with candles and beautiful handmade ornaments, many of which dated back for generations in each household to ancestors fondly remembered in stories, songs, and crayon drawings.
Then, as the custom dictated, every family member would approach the tree and kneel with a special gift and a poem of thanks and love written especially for the tree on that occasion. All the gifts would be laid at the foot of the beloved tree, in dedication to its arrival in the household, and to ask that it would tell Santa to leave special presents for its household and the sweet children it watched over. Then everyone would scamper off to bed, laughing, singing, bragging about who would get what presents, and giving one last wink and a wave to the tree as it stood silently in the great room lit by firelight and the cheer of the Holiday.
Oh, Children! Oh, dear sweet Children!! Imagine what people thought on Christmas Day when they ran down the stairs as the sun just began to clear the horizon line at 2 in the afternoon!! There were NO presents of any kind! NONE!...because Santa had been prevented from getting within a 200 mile radius of little Pripyat….and there were fighter jets chasing him away with bad missiles…and even guns and shouting over loudspeakers! But that wasn’t the worst of it! Oh NO! For not only were there NO presents. The trees themselves had grown! YES!! GROWN!! Many of the sweet trees had now reached the ceiling with their topmost branches. The Holy Christmas stars were now pressed against the plaster, breaking it in places, or bending the points off of the fine heirlooms that grandpas had made with their own wrinkled hands. And that was only the beginning….as each day went by, the trees grew taller and taller…some of them began to sprout new and oddly shaped limbs with strangely colored pine needles that looked like faces or toes, and smelled like grandma’s old socks… or her underpants. By the 6th day of the Holiday week, many trees had broken through windows and doors, had eaten food out of the larders and pantries, and even chased pets and stepped on them. By the 12th and final day of the celebration, most homes were now abandoned to roving gangs of gigantic, grotesque “tree-things” that set fires, urinated in public places, pinched ladies bottoms, and told overly long jokes with no punchlines. And THAT was the terrible/wonderful Christmas present that everyone got from Chernobyl. Tell me, Children, how many of you would like to visit exciting places like Pripyat someday???
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