WeWriWa—Fedya’s Christmas presents

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. To mark Russian Orthodox Christmas (7 January), this week’s snippet comes from Chapter 66, “Somber Christmas,” of my third Russian historical, Journey Through a Dark Forest.

Nineteen-year-old Fedya Konev recently married his sweetheart Novomira. Getting married before enlisting in the army was so urgent, he got special permission to marry during the Nativity Fast. Orthodox weddings are normally forbidden during fasts.

The newlyweds are home with their families in Minnesota for the holidays. Fedya’s youngest brother Ilya has insisted he open his presents first, since he’s leaving that night.

Fedya tries to keep a straight face as he accepts package after package—cards, razors, shaving brushes, cologne, candy, and crossword books from Igor and Ilya; homemade socks and a blanket with little ikons sewn on from his mother; stationary and a picturefold of chronological family photos from his father; a picture from Sonyechka; embroidered handkerchiefs from Katya; a purple homemade scarf from Irina; a pocket-sized prayerbook with an embroidered cover from Tatyana; a pocket watch from Nikolay; and a sketchpad, colored pencils, a fancy comb and mirror, and a bracelet with an elephant charm from Novomira.

He already knows there are more presents waiting for him at his in-laws,’ the Vishinskies,’ and back in New York.  It’ll be a wonder if he’s able to take all this with him when he goes to basic training, in addition to his necessary, regular possessions.

“We got you a couples’ present too,” Ivan announces, handing over a pink parcel. “I read about this idea in a magazine recently, and thought it’d be really nice to have before your separation.”

Fedya unwraps a blue glass bauble with an English-language inscription in gold ink, “7 January 1942, Fyodor I. Konev and Novomira A. Kutuzova-Koneva, First Christmas Together.” The inscription is ringed by a wreath, with doves and hearts on the other side.

“I’ll put this on Vera and Seva’s tree every year until the war’s over,” Novomira proclaims. “I hope it’ll be over by next Christmas, but you never can tell.”

Fedya squeezes her hand, too embarrassed to do anything more personal in front of his entire family.

As it turns out, Fedya is given 21 days at home with Novomira after enlisting, instead of taken straight to boot camp as he imagined. Had he known there’d be a mandated break between induction and reporting, he wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of getting special permission to marry during a fast season. The wedding could’ve taken place after Orthodox Christmas.

Novomira’s birth surname was Kutuzova-Tvardovskaya, but she took a page from the Spanish naming customs by keeping her mother’s surname and adding Fedya’s. When Tatyana, Fedya’s older sister, married Novomira’s older brother Nikolay, she went from Koneva to Tvardovskaya-Koneva.

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11 thoughts on “WeWriWa—Fedya’s Christmas presents

  1. You introduce us to so many interesting people and customs. And I love the graphics you include. It’s always so much fun to read your posts.

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  2. Though the presents are homey by today’s standards, there’s a warmth to them and a sense of meaningful connection that is so very clear in Fedya’s reactions. Lovely.

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  3. Somehow I don’t think he’ll be allowed to take all that with him when he goes to basic. I had no idea the custom of a “First Christmas” ornament started so long ago. Sweet snippet.

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