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The Magic Of Christmas In Sarasota

Emigration is a mixed blessing for all Hungarians, no matter what part of the globe they have been dispersed to. On the one hand, they try to blend into their new adopting country as immigrants (in this case the United States) and on the other hand, they attempt to preserve their unique heritage and the language. “Maintaining our Hungarian language speaking ability is the key!” Pali Kass (California) told me recently at Tusványos, in Transylvania at the traditional Free University event. In the meantime, at the other coastline of the United States, in southwestern Florida, the approximately 50 thousand Hungarians who live here (in Tampa, Sarasota, Bradenton, Venice, Punta Gorda and Naples) are getting ready to celebrate Christmas.

The “Hungarian Christian Church of Sarasota” community
The “Hungarian Christian Church of Sarasota” community

Rev. Peter Pal Bodor is a huge help to both the Miami area Hungarians and to the Sarasota area Hungarian community since 1993. Periodically, he makes the 7-hour round trip drive to Sarasota and back to the Miami area to celebrate a mass for the local Hungarians at the Hungarian Christian Church of Sarasota. He and his father, the Rev. László Bodor were essential to helping Hungarians preserve their sense of belonging and offering a sense of community here. When Rev. Árpád György died in the late 1980s, the Sarasota Hungarians were suddenly left without a pastor. Rev. Peter Pal Bodor responded to this calling and at the request of Chief Elder Sándor Ferenczy, agreed to hold a worship service here once a month to keep the spirit of local Hungarians alive. This ecumenical church service for Catholics, Protestants and Christians of all other denominations is a magical place for families and young Moms raising their children who wish to integrate their sons and daughters into the Hungarian community. Ottilia Varga and her dance group, the Napraforgók, are regulars at the masses, often performing wonderful acts for the parents and grandparents. One should see the teary-eyed Moms and Dads (and grandpas and grandmas) as they lovingly admire their bright-eyed sons and daughters performing plays, poetry, musical and dance acts. It is a look one never forgets!

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A Bethlehem play by the children of Sarasota

And this is what it’s all about: family! A sense of belonging. The Bethlehem scene was performed by Blanka (Mary) and Christopher (Joseph), while Csenge, Daniel, Sophia, Jennifer, Zsofia, Vince, Henry, Kevin, Laura, Vivien and others performed other acts. Tradition. Heritage. Love and long-lasting friendships. The customary coffee hour after the mass reinforces those relationships and friendships. But how long can we sustain our Hungarian heritage in a foreign country? Well, it may depend on all of us, parents and the local support circle. Árpádhon, near Baton Rouge, Louisiana remains a faint memory. Those strawberry farming Hungarians have died out over the generations for economic and other reasons. Only a historical sign reminds travelers at roadside that once there was a Hungarian community here. In other parts of the country, the Hungarian spirit is still alive. Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, California and Florida continue to have striving Hungarian communities.

Recently, a special person cautioned me that occasionally my writings tend to be a bit too harsh. When others have thrown similar critiques at me, I usually walked out of the room and slammed the door on them. I have essentially been a rebel kid who always “spoke” his mind. But this person called my attention to a new reality. We cannot go through life looking at the glass being half empty. So, we need to focus on what is in that glass. And keep on nourishing it. With kind words, love and encouragement. Being a Christian and an ex-pat who has recently followed my daughter’s footsteps and returned to the United States for some time to come, I consider this a new obligation and I owe this friend a sense of gratitude for this new realization.

On the flip side, for the first time, I will be spending Christmas eve alone here in Sarasota without family and relatives. My wonderful Mother passed away last year, my brother and his family are in Hungary and my daughter Sabine will also be in Budapest. In a way, this was my choice. Coming here and becoming a part of the local community. I will have a serene, quiet, meditating type of Christmas and that is totally acceptable.

As far as our relations between nations, we need to concentrate on  forming bridges and reaching across the aisle to try to understand each other better. We keep our fingers crossed that the new U.S. President will keep this bridge building process on his list of priorities. The Sarasota area Hungarians are such bridge builders! There is a special smile on their faces and a special kindness in their hearts. We need to preserve this smile and hug each other more frequently. That is our mission and our desire. That is how we go on levitating in time and space, never once forgetting for a minute where our ancestors and parents came from. Merry Christmas to all!

Adam Topolansky