December 1944, Budapest, Hungary, Part 1
by Nick Ittzes and Christa (Ittzes) Upton
A chill wind blew, whipping the ends of Grandmother’s bright red and yellow head scarf. She absentmindedly put her hand up to touch the scarf as she shuffled silently down the street, but she didn’t really think about the cold. What was large in her mind was Christmas.
In the war-torn, sad country of Hungary, how would they provide Christmas for the children? Every year, the adults would plan and prepare, scheme and create. They would close the parlor door to hide the secrets and decorate an evergreen tree with beautiful candies and bright candles. They would carefully choose gifts for each child—a fun toy, a colorful book, and maybe a new sweater or jacket. On Christmas Eve, they would ring the bell to call the excited children to the parlor door, announcing that “Jézuska” (the Christ Child) had visited. Then they would open the door, revealing the sparkling tree and all the lovely surprises. How they loved to see the children’s faces, full of wonder and awe! How they enjoyed the children’s delight, as the children would rush forward and then stop short of the tree, gazing in amazement and eagerness. Then they would have a short Scriptural devotion, and after that the children would play and enjoy the Christmas treats. Grandmother smiled at the memories of her sweet children and grandchildren over the years. The happiness of the children had often brought tears of joy to her eyes.
But today, the gray sky and cold buildings mirrored how Grandmother felt inside—dreary, cold, and discouraged. There appeared no way to get a Christmas tree or anything to put under the tree.
Air raids had punctuated the little family’s Advent season. Howling sirens would announce the dreaded bombings and send everyone fleeing to the basement. No one dared come in from the surrounding countryside because of the fierce air raids. So the stores were nearly empty, regular groceries unavailable. Mere survival was a daunting challenge. It seemed impossible to show the children in tangible ways how much they were loved.
Grandmother stood in the street for a second, thinking. She looked over Budapest, and far in the distance she could just see the boats on the Blue Danube. Normally from here, she could see the sparkle of the river, too, but today no sunshine could break through the thick clouds to cause any sparkle. She turned back to the street and continued walking. A few minutes later, she paused at a side-street and decided to walk down it….
to be continued….