Winter of ‘92. A happy freshman, who had passed a difficult university entrance exam just a few months ago, now had the opportunity to visit Budapest for a couple of days. Nothing could contain her excitement, she was more than thrilled—she was going a b r o a d! All by herself on a 12-hour night train ride, but who cared? She was travelling to a foreign country! Twin Peaks, the David Lynch series, was on TV in Bucharest the night she was leaving, and everybody was glued to their screens. She had also watched it with religiosity before, but now she couldn’t care less that she was going to miss it. She laced up her new boots—her brown suede hiking boots—by the beautiful hot stove in the living room, and watched the beginning of that Saturday’s episode while impatiently waiting for the moment to put on her jacket, pick up her large green backpack (with a metal frame as real hikers/travelers had) and leave for the railway station. The brown hiking boots, so new, so dear to her, were matched by a new brown hooded winter jacket (rain- and wind-proof). She enjoyed wearing her new stuff, not least because she had recently bought these things from her own scholarship money—something she felt quite proud about.
A 12-hour night ride in a coach came next, but what she recalls is getting off at Nyugati. Beautiful arcades, elegant architecture and a very special atmosphere is what she vividly remembers. The railway station looked so stylish, so aristocratic and so well-taken care of. N y u g a t i had sounded very special to her from the very beginning—this was the name of the foreign station where she was supposed to get off. Now, however, the sounds acquired a truly special image. A spacious, clean, nicely designed and classily-lit McDonald’s by the station, where she had a snack with her father (there to welcome her) only increased her fondness of the place.
Opposite the station there was a department store, a three-, maybe four-story department store with a huge, beautifully decorated Christmas tree in front of it. It was, indeed, a magnificently decorated public Christmas tree. It looked magical and felt fairytale-like to her. She took the escalators and looked around in wonder: decorations all over the three or four floors. Nicely wrapped gift boxes, numerous fir garlands, lovely wreaths with tinsel and cones, ribbons and bows, colorful globes of different sizes and multi-color twinkle lights everywhere.
And also music. It was joyfully coming out from loudspeakers:
“Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day you gave it away
This year, to save me from tears
I'll give it to someone special”
She started humming the lyrics as she recognized them at once, George Michael’s “Last Christmas,” in a department store! Music was not present in Bucharest stores at that time. She felt like Alice in Wonderland, entering unknown worlds and experiencing terrific places.
She always sang lovely carols—“O Tannenbaum” and “Mos Craciun cu plete dalbe”—under the Christmas tree at home, together with her family. Christmas had always been a magic moment for her, they always celebrated Christmas at home. She had lovely and laboriously decorated Christmas trees—with glass globes, paper cuts, real candles as well as Christmas lights. As a kid, she had believed in Santa, and with her brother she would recite poems or sing when Santa came on Christmas Eve.
As a teen (she was 18 at the time), the huge Nyugati Christmas tree, as well as the carols, decorations, twinkle lights (all on display in public!) came somehow to represent the “real magic” Christmas atmosphere she had never experienced before.