Beyond Seattle / Places of My Heart / Russia & Beyond

Russia: Some Things Never Change

(My note, years later:  I wrote this holiday sketch while living in Moscow and working for ABC News, having witnessed such dramatic changes in Russia, post-1991 Soviet coup.  It was published in the Seattle Times in 1993.)
A father guides his daughter – her first time on skis – in a snowy park outside my apartment in Moscow, Russia Photo credit: Helen Holter </br> Jan 1994

A father guides his daughter – her first time on skis – in a snowy park outside my apartment in Moscow, Russia
Photo credit: Helen Holter

(Moscow, 1993) – Some things change drastically in Russia – politics, leaders, economies.

Some things do not.

The snow is falling again, and again I hear Russian children squealing as they slide down mounds of white snow on their sleds.  I wonder what Christmas dreams these kids have for gifts this year, so I call out to them in Russian.  Another sled, a Barbie doll, a rubber ball, they yell back at me.  A mother standing nearby says her child will get clothing, period. Clothes – that dreaded word, world-wide, to many children’s ears at Christmas time.

The gift-giving which Americans share on December 25th is done here on New Year’s Day.  The way the stores have been packed with shoppers these days, it’s hard to believe there’s still so much lead time.

Unchanging Kremlin towers, more than 500 years old – Moscow, Russia <br>Photo credit: Helen Holter</br>

Unchanging Kremlin towers, more than 500 years old – Moscow, Russia
Photo credit: Helen Holter

Golden domes of the unchanging Kremlin towers glisten as nearby GUM, Moscow’s beautifully renovated department store next to Red Square, bursts with shoppers.  Gift-giving choices are many:  a stuffed parakeet toy, a Barbie doll, spinning tops playing “London Bridge,” or, perhaps, a precious can of Italian olives for the cook in the family. It’s all here, but high-priced, even to a Westerner.

Gold banners proclaim in Russian “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” Same to you, I think in Russian:  Я желаю вам весёлого Рождества и счастливого Нового года.”  Bright Christmas lights decorate some stores and apartments, while Father Frost – the Russian Santa Claus – greets young children.  Families carefully wade among the fir-tree displays, deciding which one most worthy to grace their apartment for the holidays.

Shy toddler strolls in Moscow park near my apartment, Christmas 1993 <br>Photo credit: Helen Holter</br>

Shy toddler strolls in Moscow park near my apartment, Christmas 1993
Photo credit: Helen Holter

The snow is falling harder, and I know my little Russian friends will be out late sledding, their laughter a constant in this park on this wintry Moscow evening.

Some things change drastically in this country.

Some things do not.

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