Did you know that Latvia is the birthplace of the decorated Christmas tree? Apparently old records show that it was in Old Town in Riga, the capital of Latvia, where the first Christmas tree was decorated in the 16th century. Today Latvians still decorate real fir trees with real candles and ornaments, often made from straw and other natural materials.
Children in Latvia believe that Ziemassvētku vecītis (a Latvian Santa Claus) brings their Christmas presents. The presents are usually left under the Christmas tree or they are brought by Santa Claus himself (usually played by a male member of a family or a friend). Usually to get your present you have to recite a short Christmas poem while standing next to the Christmas Tree. I still remember my first Christmas poem that I learned when I was four – it was about pixies walking home through a forest. However, I got so scared of my first encounter with Santa Claus that all I could do was to say ‘pixies, pixies, pixies’ before bursting into tears. I still got a present and still remember it. If you are not good with poems you might also get a present by singing, dancing or playing a musical instrument. You have to do something for each present, so if you are expecting a lot of presents next Christmas you may need to start planning your acts now.
Many years ago, one of my friends and me dressed up as a Santa Claus and a pixie, bought lots of presents and made surprise visits to snowy forests to our friends’ houses on Christmas Eve. Our friends’ children were so excited. After tugging our fake beards they decided that we are indeed real! Their parents were excited too. And relieved. At one house our friends’ six and eight years olds sons had insisted that they will stay up all night because they wanted to make sure they meet the Santa Claus when he brings their presents. Their parents were in despair. Santa Claus and Pixie arrived just in time to save the day (or shall I say- to save the night?). We must have been very good, as for next couple of years we got ‘booked’ to come again!
An integral part of every Christmas is a lavish meal. We Latvians love our food. An old belief is that, in order to have a prosperous New Year, a Christmas meal should consist of at least nine different dishes, including a Christmas roast, grey peas with bacon and onions, stewed sauerkraut, gingerbread cookies, and pastries. If eating a lot is not your thing, we have many other ways how to ensure prosperity, for example, by putting fish scales in your purse at Christmas time.
My all time favourite Christmas food is are cinnamon rolls. They remind me of my childhood when every Christmas my grandmother would make them together with her grandchildren using an old bread oven. Now every Christmas I continue this tradition and I bake cinnamon rolls together with my son. Writing this reminded me that it is time to get baking again!
Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus! (Merry Christmas!)
Dr. Daiga Kamerāde, Senior Lecturer in Quantitative Research Methods in Sociology/Criminology