The Basics of Being a Belarusian

      Sitting on a cold bench will cause infertility. If you step over someone’s leg and don’t cross back over it, the person will never grow again. I always heard these superstitions growing up, yet the upbringing of a Russian American is quite unlike that of a third-generation American.  

     Most people would view teasing and blatant honesty as hurtful; however, I see it as a form of love. It seems counterintuitive to think so, but hear me out. If I got below 88% on a test, I was dumb. If I forgot my lunch at home, I was irresponsible. Over time I’ve learned not to mind it as much and take it as motivation to be better. I almost prefer the mentality of not “beating around the bush” to parents who only praise their children. Mostly because sometimes I need a reality check and, luckily, I know my parents will not hesitate to give me one.

     Early in my life, my parents implemented the “rule” that I have no bedtime, contrary to several of my third-generation friends that must be asleep by 11:30 pm. At age five, I was going to sleep at 10:00 pm, and as I grew older, my bedtime got later. It’s 1:30 am. This “rule,” widely prevalent in Belarus, was made to let kids have a  schedule accustomed to their needs. I’m able to sleep when I’m actually tired and get all my work done without a time constraint.

     For most families, December 25, is the most important day of the year. In my family, however, New Years is the event to celebrate. In Russia and Belarus, Christmas takes place on January 7, but that day is reserved for attending church, leaving the celebration on New Year’s Eve. From the morning until 7:00 pm on New Year’s Eve, our family cooks several Russian foods such as Olivier salad (made with potatoes, eggs, pickles, and more) and Kholodets (jellied meat). When the cooking has finished, our family will sleep until 11:00 pm, and once everyone is awake, we begin to eat our New Year’s Eve dinner. Once the clock strikes 12, the eating shortly pauses to listen to the Russian or Belarusian president’s speech welcoming the new year. From then on until around 2:00 am or 3:00 am, our family watches Russian TV channels that have custom New Years’ programs. And finally, on New Year’s day, presents are shared and opened. And while it is odd that December 25 holds little significance for me, I appreciate the fact that I get to experience the traditions my parents grew up with. 

     I’ve learned a lot about my Belarusian heritage from my parents. Despite the fact that I celebrate Christmas on New Years, I still find Russian superstitions to be the most fascinating aspect of my nationality. For example, if I step on someone’s foot, they have the right to step on mine to show that the other person and I are on good terms. If I leave my house and then re-enter it to get something, I have to look in the mirror before I go or else I’ll have bad luck. If I spill salt, an argument will occur between my family members. And although these are only superstitions, it’s comforting to not only have something to believe in but to have something that sets me apart from others. 

     While it’s true that the love of a Russian is not the most warming, it has helped me understand that neither is the world. This tough love taught me that if I wanted something, then it was up to me to work for it. I gained a sense of independence and developed a strong work ethic. When I actually do receive praise, I know that it is because I genuinely deserved it. I intend to raise my children this same way ⁠— given I don’t become infertile by sitting on a cold bench.