Charity má narozeniny . . .

During one of my first lessons at the gymnázium, I talked to students about non-verbal greetings like kisses and handshakes.  I was surprised when a student mentioned that Czechs shake hands on birthdays.  Soon I was to find out how that played out.  The first birthday celebrations that I observed here were quite sweet.  At work, the birthday celebration is begun by the magical appearance of baked goods.  They're either baked by the birthday boy/girl (or his/her spouse) or purchased from a local bakery and are delivered to the various offices. There have been some spectacular cakes, muffins, and goodies present.  (See right.)

Typically, on the long break between the second and third periods, the department assembles outside the office of the birthday boy/girl.  Then, beginning the Czech birthday song, "_______ má narozeniny . . . " they enter.  The song mostly consists of the wishes of the singers on the birthday person.  The chorus wishes the birthday person happiness and health--but mainly health.  This blessing is followed by the wishes/blessings of the people on the birthday person.  Standing in a semi-circle around the birthday person, each person takes a turn; he or she shakes the hand of the birthday person while wishing them "všechno nejlepší" (all the best) among other things like love, health, and joy.  When finished, the well-wisher bestows a kiss or two on the cheek. Typically somewhere in the circling of all the people, flowers and chocolates are presented.  Usually the chocolates are promptly opened and shared around as well.

Such was the event on my birthday.  Having newly acquired a kitchen, I spent a blissful Saturday night before my birthday dressed in an apron and presiding over my decidedly American desserts: chocolate chip cookies and Apple Coffee Cake.  I found a 50% cocoa chocolate bar to break up for the chips (tasted perfectly like semi-sweet), acquired brown sugar at Interspar and plain baking powder at Marks and Spencer (though I opted out of the over-priced vanilla and substituted a dash of almond).  The Apple Coffee Cake was a completely new recipe that drove me insane with its deliciousness.  I had to sample it before bringing it in (seeing as it was a new recipe) and it took all the self-control I had to stop eating it.

Monday, a day with so much potential and the day of my birthday, came.  I shared around cookies, cake, and American butterscotch candies.  The colleagues gave me beautiful birthday blessings in Czech and English, and they bestowed on me some cheerful flowers--among other things.  My dear friend Zaneta gave me . . . a pineapple!  Apparently it was her way of problem-solving after going out a bit too late to get flowers.  For the record, the gift was perfect: ripe, nutritious, and hilarious.  I also got some lovely tulips from colleagues and a chocolate/nut mix (because you all should know that I LOVE chocolate and nuts--especially dark chocolate and almonds).  Then one colleagues husband turned up after school with yet more flowers.  Flowers and chocolate aside, I have been incredibly blessed by my colleagues here and their grace and patience with me, their foreigner.  I will miss them dearly.


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