Archived Story

Ukrainian children get American-style Christmas

Published 7:03pm Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas came early this year for seven Ukrainian children visiting Lake Martin through Manifold Mercies’ orphan hosting program. The children, all from the town of Poltava, on Dec. 25 were treated to an American-style Christmas at Children’s Harbor; in their native country, Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 7 in accordance with the Eastern orthodox calendar.

They also met Santa Claus and his wife for the first time here.

“We do not have Santa Claus,” they said through their interpreter. “We have Father Frost. He has a very long beard, much longer than Santa Claus, and wears a heavy coat, but not a red suit.”

Father Frost traditionally has a young granddaughter who is known as Old Snow Girl, and the children were a little confused at first with the presence of Mrs. Claus, thinking she was an older version of the snow girl. The teacher and interpreter who accompanied the children on their U.S. adventure had to explain the difference.

But it didn’t really matter once Santa started handing out the presents.

Manifold Mercies received numerous gift donations from individuals and local businesses, as well as corporate gifts, and the visitors were as enchanted as any American child on Christmas morn. From new coats to candies, toys and a Wii Dance game, the children gave the American Christmas an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Their holiday dinner was a mix of traditional Ukrainian foods and the American staples of ham, cole slaw and fruit salad, along with a “Happy Birthday, Jesus” cake. The children arrived in the U.S. Dec. 22 and will be based at Children’s Harbor until their return to Ukraine on Jan. 10. During their stay, they will visit McWane Science Center in Birmingham, the Montgomery Zoo and DeSoto Caverns. They will go roller skating, bowling, horseback riding and enjoy a pontoon cruise on Lake Martin, which they said is very picturesque.

During their stay, transportation has been provided by Tallapoosa Ford; Alexander City’s Winn-Dixie donated most of the food for the children during their visit; and Alabama Power Foundation provided additional funding. They also have the opportunity to sample American restaurant fare.

“We have received many, many other contributions,” noted Allen Isbell who along with his wife Michele three years ago founded Manifold Mercies to minister to the children who live at the Poltava orphanage. “Without that outpouring of generosity, we just could not do this. Alexander City has been so supportive and has done so much for the children.”