Winners of the 2009 Christmas Contest
Thank you to everyone who shared their wonderful pictures and stories with the Gulyas Pot for the 2009 Contest. We received great stories about how people across the US combine Hungarian and American Christmas celebrations. They were truly inspirational. The winners are:
First Prize –
A Doll Named Nudli, A Christmas Story by Marta Boros Horvath
(see full story below)
Second Prize –
Hungarian American Christmas Traditions and Celebrations by Mihaly Horvath
(see full story below)
A Doll Named Nudli
A Christmas Story
Marta Boros Horvath
I was just a tiny little girl when the war ended. Still, the cruelties of war etched lasting memories into my tender mind. I remember, for instance, that my father was drafted, that there were air raids in our beautiful little town, and that my mother, baby sister and I sought shelter in the basement of our apartment building along with the other residents.
During the winter of 1944-45 the Allies launched three extensive bomb attacks on our city. My hometown and our country were reduced to ruins, and everything was in shortage by the time the bombing quieted down. In the villages people had a bit more food to eat, but our city dweller’s diet consisted of potatoes, beans, corn bread, and black chicory coffee. My poor mother was so tired of corn bread that for the rest of her life she never ever wanted to see it again.
Our city was occupied by the Soviet Red Army. The highest ranking officer decided to take possession of our lovely, fully furnished home and our family was forced to rent an upstairs room from a relative. That one room served as our living room, dining area, bedroom and washroom. I do not remember our arrangement for the toilet.
My clothes that I remember from this period were not cute, frilly, pink little girls’ dresses, but a gray flannel checkered dress befitting the uniform of a Dickensian orphanage. Gray, crudely knitted stockings and boyish brown high-top shoes rounded out my daily attire.
Since we were lacking basic food and clothing, we certainly could not afford toys. Our country and our families had more pressing problems to deal with. On days when my mother could serve our family a pasta called nudli (pronounced noodlie), made of potatoes and flour, rolled
somewhat like the Italian gnocchi, boiled and tossed with bread-crumbs, it was a red letter holiday, at least for me. Having grown used to wartime meals as a young child, this was my favorite food. With childish genius I prolonged the enjoyment of this favorite delicacy by making two or three bites out of each little hand-rolled noodle. Long after the rest of the family had finished dinner, I was still sitting by the table sucking and savoring the tiny noodle bites, now cold.
These were our circumstances when Christmas 1946 arrived. My parents managed to find a Christmas tree assembled from branches, so we did have a tree. My father took me on a walk early Christmas Eve while my mother set up the humble little tree. Aside from candles I do not remember how the tree was decorated, but placed underneath were my presents, a pair of new hosiery and a pair of gloves. In addition, the little Jesus (according to Hungarian children’s belief) also brought me a doll! The tiny, 13cm (five inches) rag doll did not even have hair. Her head was formed from an old silk stocking and the angel drew her face on with red and blue ink. I no longer remember what she was wearing.
Without any hesitation I named her Nudli. Her tiny arms were round and the exact size of my favorite pasta, the potato noodle; her legs were only a bit longer. I loved my Nudli doll very much, just as I loved her namesake, the potato noodle. Instead of a dollhouse and little doll bed, a small, brownish cardboard box with lid was Nudli’s residence. I lined the box with scraps of fabric to make her bed soft. I made small outfits for her, fashioned with scissors from scraps of fabric, reminiscent of priest’s vestments. I rounded out each “dress” with a piece of yarn for a
belt. To her head, or rather into her bald head, I pinned a bow made from blue polka dot fabric.
As my small fingers grew and became more skilled I also sewed tiny “shoes” for Nudli from round fabric scraps, gathered at the edges with thread and tied at her ankles. A small pillow and comforter also got into the box, along with a lacy coverlet. I dreamed and played for hours on end with my humble toy and found pleasure in Nudli’s colorful wardrobe. She had a red polka dot skirt, a floral blouse, a blue vest and red shoes.
Later, as our poverty eased somewhat, we had money to spend on toys, too. My playmates had hard plastic dolls by then yet I hung fast to my precious, beloved Nudli.
The city government finally allocated an apartment for us. Around that time Nudli, too, retired to her box, and a large doll with long hair took her place in my play world of make-believe. Nudli lay in her box in my drawer between her pillows and comforter while my interest slowly shifted from dolls to boys. Before I immigrated to America I left Nudli, along with my diaries, in a sealed box in my parents’ care.
A few years ago when I returned to Hungary for my father’s funeral I realized I must make arrangements for Nudli’s future before any uninformed family member sentenced the ugly little doll to eternal damnation and the poor thing would end up in the garbage dumpster. This is how Nudli came to embark on a long journey, flying beyond the Seven Seas to the New World as an illegal immigrant. After her arrival I introduced her to my children (who grew up with colorful Fisher Price toys and dolls, each more beautiful than the other). They were amazed and unbelieving, almost uncomfortable at the sight of this tangible proof of my humble childhood. So, I put Nudli back into her little box and hid her in the bottom of a drawer. There she lay, more or less forgotten.
Just the other day as my thoughts turned to the upcoming Christmas–I myself don’t know why–Nudli came to my mind. As I opened her small, yellowish box, there lay my familiar little doll, yet it was as if I was seeing her for the first time. In her I saw the infant Jesus, born in humble circumstances and placed in a manger. That same little Jesus came to me on that long-ago, poverty-stricken Christmas after the war, when we had no home, no food, no clothes. Outside our city and our country lay in ruins, indoors we lacked coal and wood to heat our room, but our family was together, we escaped the ravages of war. That is when Nudli entered into my young life and in her humbleness all she asked was love. In exchange for it she lit up my gloomy childhood years and made my make-believe world happier and more colorful.
As I marveled at Nudli I realized that my beloved, poor little doll deserves a more prominent place and honor. From now on she will be sitting under the Christmas tree each year, the same as on that first Christmas after the war when the infant Jesus brought her into my life, so, through her, I may dream of a colorful world and a more beautiful future.
“Glory to God in Heaven
Peace to men on Earth”
(Hungarian Christmas carol)
Copyright © by Marta Boros Horvath. All rights reserved.
Placing my old rag doll, Nudli, and her written story by the Christmas tree became a tradition in our home since 1997. Instead of a Christmas card I also pass on her printed story to my family and friends. The humble doll reminds me of the true meaning of Christmas, and helps me appreciate the many blessings I have received since that long ago Christmas after the war.
Hungarian American Christmas Traditions and Celebrations
– A Christmas Party with Magyar Nativity and Carolers
By Mihály Horváth, Cleveland, Ohio
What is more of an American Christmas tradition than the annual Christmas party for family and friends? What is more of a Hungarian tradition than a Nativity play and Hungarian Christmas carols? Take these two traditions, from two cultures, and have them together where the Hungarian nativity and carolers perform at the Christmas party.
Nearly 20 years ago, on the weekend before Christmas, my wife Judit and I had a Christmas party at our home for a few friends. Since then, this has become an annual event with 50-70 family and friends getting together with all the trappings of food, drink and decorations to celebrate the Christmas season.
As members of the Hungarian Scouts in Cleveland, one year I invited the boys and young adults from the local Hungarian scout troop to come to our home on the night of the party to present their yearly Nativity play. This is called betlehemezés. The boys would spend a couple of weekends before the holiday visiting the homes of individual families with young children or senior shut-ins to present their ten minute program about Jesus’ birth. I figured what a wonderful program it would be for our guests to see this beautifully done program first hand, in the company of their spouses, many of whom were not of Hungarian ancestry.
The boys come dressed in traditional Hungarian shepard cloaks and they bring a small nativity with them as the center piece of their program. The play is presented in the Hungarian language and whispers of translation can be heard in the background among the guests. The dialogue, memorized over the years, or perhaps on the car ride over, is quite jovial at first before settling down into the true meaning of the Christ child’s birth. The entertaining, yet solemn presentation concludes with a burst of applause from the gathered guests and a passing of the hat provides a little Christmas cheer for the scouts to use for programs in the New Year.
More recently the Hungarian girl scouts have resurrected the tradition of visiting homes, like the boys, before the holiday to sing Hungarian Christmas carols. This is called kántálás. They will show up at one’s home wearing colorful Hungarian shawls, ring the doorbell, and proceed to sing a dozen or more carols, some in English as a surprise, to the gathered family in the doorway. Many times they are invited into the warmth of the home to perform their caroling and later offered cookies, cakes and treats for their fine performance.
Of course, the girls now come to our home too during the big party, to share their beautiful voices singing the lyrics to many familiar Hungarian Christmas songs. Year after year, along with the boys’ Nativity play, they all come to our party to share their talents. The guests are in awe, both Hungarian and American, of the boys and the girls and of the wonderment of Hungarian Christmas traditions at an American Christmas party celebrating the joy of the Christmas season!