Marie Bowling’s first Christmas as a newlywed and away from her home in the Czech Republic could have been a sad one filled with home sickness, but thanks to her new husband’s family in Charles County and even an unexpected surprise, it was both a joyful time and one to remember.
Marie was an exchange student at La Plata High School in 2013-14, where she met Drew Bowling, her future husband. After a few years of keeping in touch, they married, and he lived with her about a year in the Czech Republic. Because of that, he knew what it was like to be away from home during the holidays, and when they moved back to the United States in 2019, the Bowling family was especially determined to make it a nice Christmas for her.
In the Czech Republic, they celebrate Christmas on the 24th. Marie shared, “For Christmas, we have a green pea soup. The most traditional soup is supposed to be fish soup, but we don’t really like it. We also have a potato salad, and my brother and I make a pork or chicken schnitzel.” Her mom makes fish with her and her grandma, and her father likes sausage. They have a special set of plates and dishes that they only use once a year for Christmas dinner. Once everything is prepared and set on the table, and people are seated, no one is allowed to get up—not even to retrieve a forgotten dish. They consider it bad luck.
The Bowlings had a Czech-style meal on Christmas Eve, including the special “no getting up from the table” rule, and then they had an American Christmas the next morning. Marie said, “It was a really nice Christmas. I like how the whole family came together, and my husband and I came down, and his brother and his fiancée came down from New York. We headed out to church and then met with more family members. The idea of having family over is really nice.”
In addition to time with her new family, Marie was able to make Christmas special for her husband thanks to local merchants. A few weeks earlier, Marie had attended the annual Shop La Plata event, always held on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. Along with her Charles County family, she visited many of the interesting shops in town and entered the Holiday Shopping Spree Giveaway. And guess what? She won! “It was unbelievable,” she said. “I hadn’t ever won anything!” At the time, they didn’t have much, and were renting a space in a basement with one room and small bathroom.
“My husband has incredible music talent,” said Marie. “We would go to his friend’s place who has drums, and he would play the drums. I had said, maybe one day, we can buy drums if we have the money. That would nice…and then we won $1,000!” So, it’s not hard to guess where most of that money went.
They went to La Plata’s Island Music Company, and they had electronic drum sets. “You can plug it into the wall and use headphones so they don’t make too much noise,” said Marie. Most of the winnings went toward the drums, but they had enough left over to take the Bowling parents out for dinner at The Charles and buy a few things at New Moon Bodywork and Botanicals.
About the drums, Marie, laughing, says they moved them into their one rented room and now owned a mattress and drums. “I was very happy to see my husband happy,” she said, “and it was his Christmas gift that year.”
As for Christmas 2021, Marie is planning to make traditional Czech Christmas cookies, called “cukrovi” and looking forward to visiting with her in-laws, the Bowlings, in Charles County. She mentioned the beautiful decorations at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Port Tobacco, including the poinsettias. While living in Howard County now, she likes the openness of Charles County, being able to enjoy nature, and shopping local. Several family members will be home again soon, and they’ll celebrate.
The Shop La Plata event and sites mentioned in this blog are only a small part of what Charles County has to offer for the holidays. Check Charles County Economic Development’s Shop Local page or Tourism’s Explore the Holiday Season page for ideas.