Culture: Loves it here, but misses home

By Ruth Keber

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Magdalena James with two of her children Gregory, 9, and Aurelia, 6. Mrs James moved to New Zealand from Poland seven years ago and said she was proud to share her culture. PHOTO/RUTH KEBER
Magdalena James with two of her children Gregory, 9, and Aurelia, 6. Mrs James moved to New Zealand from Poland seven years ago and said she was proud to share her culture. PHOTO/RUTH KEBER

Magdalena James was born and raised in a city that had to be rebuilt after World War II but the Polish expat now calls Mount Maunganui home.

Mrs James met her Kiwi husband, Kurt, when they were travelling in Ireland in 2002.

They ran into each other three times in one day, prompting them to travel together.

"So we started talking and planning on what next we wanted to see. So it was just natural we started to see those things together. We travelled for 10 days together and then he followed me to Poland, we travelled around there, had Christmas and then he never left."

The couple married and moved back to New Zealand seven years ago and now live with their four young children, Gregory, Aurelia, Oliver and Julia in Mount Maunganui.

The 33-year-old was born and raised in Poland's capital city of Warsaw, a city that was destroyed in World War II.

"But it was totally rebuilt, according to the plans before the war and as much as people remember.

"Narrow streets with colourful houses but nothing compared to the original French or German cities in Europe but if you know it was completely rebuilt, it is quite amazing," she said.

Her father was an Egyptologist and her mother a teacher. Her father would go away on two excavations a year and spend up to three months in Egypt.

"My father always wrote letters, so in the time with no Skype and no internet, I remember always waiting; Father would write for each of us separately."

As a child, weekends and holidays were spent with her parents, brother and two sisters. "We would go to the mountains in the winter for the snow and the forest in the summer."

Mrs James said she still missed the traditions of holidays such as Christmas and Easter.

"We celebrate on Christmas Eve. You would fast for the whole day and wait for the first star to appear in the sky. It would be winter so it gets dark early, and when the first star is up we would start our feast about 5 or 6pm.

"You would have 12 dishes. Even as a little child, you had to try every dish, even if it was a little bit. There would be no meat. Fish, cabbage, mushroom, poppy-seed dishes, home-made bread and a wafer we would share at the beginning."

By 8pm the feast would be over and presents would be opened. The day ended with midnight mass, she said.

Celebrations would go for two days after Christmas Eve and everybody would dress up in a white shirt and an elegant skirt or a dress and have family time together.

Poland started its Easter celebrations immediately before the Thursday prior to Good Friday. "On the Friday there would be no music in the churches in Poland. The music stops and the fast starts because we remember that Jesus died for us. Then on the Saturday you would go to the different churches and see the display of Jesus's tomb," she said.

Flowers and dancing were also included in the things she missed.

Children in Poland used to be named after saints but this was becoming less common in the 21st century, she said.

Although living in New Zealand and attending English schools, Mrs James still speaks Polish to her children.

"I wanted them to know my language and communicate with my family, so they know their culture."

She has also set up a Polish language school for other children with Polish roots in the Bay of Plenty. Every Saturday morning they gather at the St Thomas Moore Church where she teaches language and different parts of her culture.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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