Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Baltic Christmas Day 24 - Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus!

Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus! Linksmų Kalėdų! Häid jõule!

Once again, I would like to extend an enormous paldies to everyone who has contributed to this series; in the form of posts, photographs, illustrations, interviews and ideas. As to the readers, the friends who commented and translated, and those who put me in contact with bloggers and authors all over the world, I am so very grateful – the series would not have been a success without you. Special mention to artist ZILGMA for the uniquely Baltic logo (she’s also my ‘phone-a-friend’ for culinary questions!), and to I&G for the help brainstorming DIY Baltic gift ideas – that was fun! As always, thank you to Roberts and the boys for their patience with me while I immerse myself in the world of Baltic Christmas.

On this final day of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas, a review of all the wonderful contributions we’ve seen this month! On Day 2 we took a look at all the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Christmas markets taking place across the US, Canada, Australia and Europe.

On Day 3 we welcomed Andārte Phillips and the students of Krišjāņa Barona Latviešu Skola with their recipe for rupjmaizes kārtojums, the iconic traditional Latvian dessert featuring dark rye bread that is considered a classic treasure of Latvian cuisine. Māra Linde returned to the series on Day 4, with the story of how the San Francisco Baltic Christmas Fair came to be.

A collaboration between 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas and Baltic Imports brought us the Baltic Gift Guide 2019 on Day 5. Then on Day 6 food blogger and author Latvian Eats presented the truly traditional Christmas dish of koča or kūķis from her new cookbook Latvian Eats: Soups, Stews & Porridge.

On the 7th day of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas, we took a peaceful walk in the woods. Then on Day 8, a humorous guide to DIY gifts to make for your favorite Balt!

We welcomed back Ilze Ieviņa from the blog Let the Journey Begin on Day 9. Ilze joined us with a traditional Latvian recipe that should be on every holiday table, štovēti kāposti – Latvian Christmas Sauerkraut. Then on Day 10 Nikolajs Timrots introduced us to the Lithuanian dessert grybukai (mushrooms) that are usually in the shape of a baravykas and are stunners on the dessert table.

Annelī’s Vegan Latvian Gingerbread cookies, vegānas piparkūkas made their debut on Day 11, providing a delicious, vegan alternative to the Latvian traditional cookie. Then on Day 12 a round-up of the top cookie recipes from the 6 years the series has been running, for the Baltic Cookie Exchange.

Learn how to make pītes with a traditional Latvian recipe of gray peas, bacon, onions, dill and potatoes on Day 13. Then on Day 14 read about the annual Lithuanian Christmas concert in Chicago, performed by Dainava.

On Day 15 a twist on the traditional gingerbread house with our piparkūku Pulvertornis! Then on Day 16 a favorite contributor, Inga Lucāns, with her recipe for a traditional Baltic fermented beverage, Honey-lemon kvass!

It was across the Atlantic to the UK on Day 17, with Margaret Drummond’s post on Kūčios in London, then and now. And on Day 18, Māra McLaughlin-Taylor shared the ways she has found to enjoy the Baltic winter!

On the final week of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas… On Day 19 we welcomed Adam Rang of the blog Estonian Saunas, for a guide on how to cut down a Christmas tree in Estonia. Then on Day 20, Krista Svalbonas, her husband Lars Alverson, and Dzintra Alverson brought us a Christmas story from the Wentorf displaced-persons camp in Germany, part of the “Displacement” project documenting the DP camps through interviews, photography and art.

The students of Krišjāņa Barona Latvian School of Chicago were the stars of winter solstice, Day 21, with their handmade ķekatas masks. Artist Lāsma Maher led the students in preparing the paper-mâché masks that were worn for the school’s annual Christmas pageant. Then on Day 22, Nikolajs Timrots took us on a tour of the Vilnius Christmas markets!

Finally, on Day 23 – thoughts on the variety of decorations we see in modern-day Baltic homes.

I hope you enjoyed this sixth year of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas! We’re thankful to once again have been a part of your holiday preparations, and hope you found some Yule/Ziemassvētki/Kūčios spirit here on Femme au Foyer. I wish you and yours a very merry Christmas, and all the best in 2020.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Baltic Christmas Day 23

Are your piparkūkas and kūčiukai baked? Presents wrapped? Excellent.

Now that the log has been dragged and burned, the Christmas markets visited, and the krupnikas bottled, we can finally sit back and enjoy the season! Family is visiting, candles have been lit, Christmas music is playing in the background, and the aroma of pīrāgi and piparkūkas fills the air!

Make yourself a cup of coffee or tea, and find a comfortable spot to sit for a few minutes, an hour… Soak it in, for Christmas will be over all too quick – enjoy the moment.

One of my favorite part of the holiday season is experiencing the spectrum of decorations. We have blow-up snowmen, Santa & reindeer on roofs, technicolor lights and inflatable snow globes. We also have quiet white strings of lights, wreaths of all kinds, garlands, and of course Christmas trees shining through windows. Indoors we have mantelpiece extravaganzas, gingerbread houses (or Pulvertornis), advent wreaths, window snowflakes and candles. Poinsettias and amaryllis and Christmas cactus blooming. Christkindlmarket mugs and Christmas china, Santa sweaters and auseklis leggings.

My relatives often have Scandinavian-influenced decorations next to their Latvian trimmings. Ornaments made by children hang next to the Christmas pickle, dried orange slices next to a glitter-covered snowball. The straw puzuris next to a silver paper one made with metallic pipe cleaners.

Maybe your only ornament is a candle in the window, or an extra setting at the table with a candle on an empty plate. Maybe you will feast with twelve courses, maybe nine. Santa might show in the evening to listen to your poem, or leave a present only when you are asleep. However you and your family celebrates – be it Yule, Kūčios, the winter solstice, Ziemassvētki, Jõulud, Christmas – I hope you find peace, happiness and hope in your celebration this year. Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus!

The photographs in this post are of holiday decorations at my uncles home – aren’t they beautiful? A little bit of traditional Latvian, a lot of natural materials, and a touch of creativity...

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Baltic Christmas Day 22 - Feel the Magic of the Christmas Season in Vilnius!

Welcome back to Nikolajs on Day 22 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas! 

“Nikolajs Timrots is an American-Latvian who spent his whole life in the Washington, DC area until relocating to Vilnius this past September. You may remember him from such hits as 2019’s “Grybukai.” He is now in that awkward stage where he knows enough about Vilnius to know how little he actually knows about Vilnius.”

Christmas markets in Europe are amazing. It’s a well-known fact. You can get hot booze, eat tasty food, look at some pretty lights, hear some Christmas music, and get your Christmas shopping done, all in one stop. Vilnius is no different! But there’s something about the layout of the old town here that makes it extra magical.

Let’s start in Cathedral Square. This is a big open plaza next to, you guessed it, Vilnius Cathedral, which is just below what is likely the most famous landmark in Vilnius, Gediminas Castle. However, for the month of December, this square becomes the site of Vilnius’ official Christmas tree, and most popular Christmas market.

For the last few years, the arrangement has been a ring of booths around the Christmas tree itself, making for a stunning setting. It looks amazing as you approach, and even more so as you walk around the market itself under the lights strung up overhead! The theme for 2019 seems to be chess- oddly, I didn’t see anything about that at the market itself or online- but it makes for a really eye-catching light display! 

The food and drink selection is outstanding. All kinds of boozy teas, non-boozy teas, boozy coffee, non-boozy coffee, hot wine, hot chocolate, regular chocolate, gingerbread cookies, and fresh-made waffles and crepes. My personal favorite is šaltalankių arbata (buckthorn tea), with or without herbal liqueur. There are also all kinds of stocking stuffers to take back home with you. Oh, and toys with lights. Boy, are flashy light devices popular, especially with the kids.

Head west toward the center of Old Town on Gedimino prospektas, and you will be treated to a really beautiful avenue covered in lights as far as the eye can see, as this street is almost perfectly straight for two kilometers. The ice white lights and the color of the streetscape make for a most pleasant walk, especially if you’re lucky enough to do this when it’s closed to cars! Even passing by on a cross street on my way to and from work each day is a real treat, especially since it’s only light for about 7 hours this time of year. Since the sun doesn’t ever seem to come out to say hello, having lights everywhere at night is a real mood booster!

Source here
Hang a left onto Vilniaus gatvė to catch more Old Town sights and lights. Eventually, you will reach Town Hall Square, the other big Christmas market in town. This location is nice because it truly feels like you’re in the middle of Old Town, and instead of white wooden huts, the little shops are in clear, geodesic domes, which help give the appearance of a true winter wonderland!

Source here
The best part of all of this is you can really feel the spirit anywhere in the city. If you like Christmas, you’ll love that many stores start playing Christmas music and selling for the holidays as early as late October! And because there are many Orthodox Christians living here and visiting, decorations and music continue through January 6. For a non-traditional Christmas celebration, go visit the historic Lukiškės prison for a unique experience, and some perspective on what it might be like to not see Christmas lights for a long time. And finally, when you come visit Vilnius, don’t forget to visit the famous confiscated items tree in the airport!

Linksmų Kalėdų/Merry Christmas!

Paldies Nikolaj, for taking us on a tour of this year’s Vilnius market! One of the things I miss most about living in France is this particular season – the lights, the markets, the boozy and non-boozy coffee… Vilnius has long been on my travel bucket list, and the more I hear about winter in Lithuania, the more I think this might be the way to experience it for the first time. What do you think?

Thank you for joining us today on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas! Stay tuned for Day 23, a peek at some exquisite Latvian Christmas ornaments!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Baltic Christmas Day 21 - Winter Solstice!

Today is winter solstice: the ziemas saulgrieži, shortest day of the year, heralding the arrival of winter! It is also Yule (in Estonia jõulud), the winter festival with roots in the pagan solstice celebrations and the precursor to modern Christmas. Jõulud and the winter solstice were of great importance to the Baltic peoples, as many of the pagan traditions and rituals are the foundations of the modern day Christmas celebration.

As Daina wrote in her post on the winter solstice, “Latvian winters are traditionally cold and - most of all - dark. In Riga on December 21, the sun will rise at 9:00am, and set at 3:43pm, which calculates to a mere six hours and 43 minutes of daylight. Before Latvians were converted to Christianity, they celebrated winter solstice on the year’s shortest day with festivities that included songs, food, fire, and various traditions. After all, if you are experiencing 17+ hours of darkness on a daily basis for several weeks, it seems only natural to create a celebration to look forward to.”

Imanta wrote about one of those celebratory traditions in her post Čigāni. The tradition of čigāni, budēļi, ķekatnieki (the name depends on the region in Latvia and the time of year) “all symbolize the procession of noise making, dressing up in costumes, visiting homes and making a ruckus for others. Some might find it similar to the American tradition of Mummers, but the costumes are far less extravagant... These months of winter are very dark and dreary in Latvia, so, for the most part in the past it was a way to keep entertained. It is also believed that evil spirits roam the dark months and so, by being visited by budēļi, čigāni or the like, you scare away the evil spirits. This is also why it’s important to make a lot of noise when going on these costumed travels. By making noise, you scare away the bad energy. These special guests also are believed to bring good luck, good health and fertility. So, you better let them in and you better have something ready to give them! In addition to inspecting your house and your quick wit, budēļi expect to be given food and drink. This is to give them energy in their continuing quests.”

This year the students of Krišjāņa Barona Latvian School of Chicago will be donning handmade masks at the annual Christmas event, “KBLS Ķekatas.” In addition to a well-attended market there are also a Christmas lunch and bake sale, but the central event is always the pageant. This year artist Lāsma Maher led the students in preparing paper mache masks that will be worn for the performance; they started their preparations in October/November, and over the weeks carefully added layers of newspaper, paint, and later raffia, string and other accents to create their masterpieces.

Lāsma writes “Masku gatavošana, pārģērbšanās un svētku svinēšana ir daudzu tautu tradīcija visa pasaulē. Latvijā sena tradīcija ir rīkot gājienus ar pārģērbšanos lielā grupā, kas apciemo vairākas mājas pēc kārtas. Maskētos gājējus sauca dažādos vārdos, atkarība no Latvijas novada, piemēram: ķekatas, budēļi, bubulnieki, spokstiņi utt.

Vistipiskākie masku tēli bija: Dzērve, Kaza, Zirgs, Lācis, Nāve, Garā sieva, dažādi mistiski meža gari, gadalaiki, dārzeņi utt. Čikāgas latviešu skolas bērni vairākas nedēļas pēc kārtas gatavoja sejas maskas no papīra. Katram skolniekam bija iespēja izvēlēties kādu konkrētu dzīvnieku vai putnu, kā ari izdomāt pašam savu mistisku tēlu.

Sestdien, 21. decembrī skolā ir Ziemassvētku priekšnesums, kuŗā bērni pārģērbsies pašdarinātās maskās un ies rotaļās.”

Dzērve (crane), lapsa (fox), vilks (wolf), garā sieva (tall woman)... who or what will we meet next?!

A big thank you to Lāsma for the photographs of the students’ creations and her apraksts! I’m inspired by the results, and am already planning how we could have our own ķekatas here in South Carolina next year... Hopefully we will be able to post some photographs from today's KBLS Ķekatas on the 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas Facebook page, where you will also find links to other articles about the Baltic winter solstice traditions and videos of budēļi.

With Christmas fast-approaching, we are winding down the series. However, make sure to take a break from your holiday preparations tomorrow on Day 22, when Nikolajs Timrots returns with his impressions of this year’s Vilnius Christmas market!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Baltic Christmas Day 20 - Christmas Eve in Wentorf DP Camp

Today, on Day 20 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas, I am delighted in to introduce artist Krista Svalbonas, her husband Lars Alverson, and Dzintra Alverson! I recently met Krista and Lars while Krista’s most recent project, “Displacement” was featured at Spartanburg Art Museum in the exhibit up[route]d, and was fascinated by the work she is doing documenting the displaced-person camps that the Baltic peoples called home for years post-WWII. Please make sure to read on towards the end – Krista and Lars are still seeking DP’s from many of the camps to interview…

“Born in Latvia and Lithuania, my parents spent five years after the end of World War II in displaced-person camps in Germany before they were allowed to emigrate to the United States. In the series “Displacement,” I set out to retrace and re-imagine that history. My parents’ childhood homes were structures appropriated from other civilian and military uses to house thousands of postwar refugees. They had always described this housing as temporary; I never expected to see these buildings myself. But after intensive archival research, I was able to locate, visit, and photograph many of the actual buildings on the sites of former DP camps in Germany. I have documented 47 former Baltic DP camps in Germany and am currently traveling the US and Canada, interviewing former DP’s from these camps.” (Krista)

“Here is my mother’s little story about Christmas in the Wentorf DP camp. The still life below reflect the central objects of her story; the gnome pictured is the original that is described in this story.” (Lars)

(English version follows below)

Ziemas Svetku Vakars Wentorfas Nometne, Dzintra Alverson

      “Šo jauko notikumu esmu bieži stāstijusi un aprakstījusi skolas domrakstu uzdevumos un vēlāk, saviem berniem.  Bija Ziemsvētku Vakars Wentorfas DP nometnē.  Mūsu ceļojāmā koka kaste un brūnais grumbuļainais koferītis no Latvijas bija sapakoti pilni.  Viss mūsu istabā bija sapakots un nokrāmēts, lai agri no rīta mēs varētu doties ceļā uz Gronas nometni, no kuras mēs kāptu kugī, ceļā uz Brazīliju.  Mammiņa bija pat nokristījusies par Baptisti, lai mēs dabūtu sponsorus Baptistu kolonijā. Te pēkšņi pienāca ziņa no nometnes valdības ka viss otrais stāvs ir slēgts ar karantīni, jo vienam zēnam esot masalas.  Nekāda iešana vai braukšana visiem otrā stāva iedzīvotājiem uz divām nedēļām. Tā visa cerība braukt rīt prom zuda. Kuģis uz Brazīliju rīt aizbrauks bez mums.

      Mēs palikām istabā, bez Ziemsvētkiem, dāvanām, svētku priekiem.  Uz tukšā galdiņa stāvēja  stikla pudelīte, kurā Mammiņa bija ielikusi egļu zariņu, lai mums būtu kaut kāda Ziemsvētku sajūta. Zariņā dega viena svecīte.  Mēs sēdējām ap galdu un dziedājām Ziemsvētku dziesmiņas savā ģimenes korītī.  Brālis Vilnis dziedāja basu, māsa Ilga ar Mammiņu otro balsi un mēs abas ar māsu Aiju, pirmo balsi. 

      Te pēkšņi pie loga dzirdam kādu balsi.  Mammiņa piegāja pie loga.  Lejā stāvēja svēša dāma un angļu valodā lūdza lai Mammiņa nolaiž lejā groziņu ar kaut kādu virvi. Tā kā mēs  bijām nupat pakojušies, Mammiņai bija groziņš un virve pie rokas.  Viņa nolaida virvi.  Kad viņa uzrāva groziņu augšā, mums visiem palika mutes vaļā.  Tur bija četri lieli apelsīni, un maza kastīte, kurā bija mazs, trīs collu metāla rūķītis kurš, kad viņu uzgriež ar metāla atslēdziņu aizmugurē, griežās apkārt un tur savās rokās vēl mazāku rūķīti . Izrādijās ka viena angļu dāma no UNRAs bija dzirdējusi ka otrā stāvā esot ģimene ar četriem bērniem, kuri sēž karantīnē, bez Ziemassvētkiem, jo viņiem bijis paredzēts rīt braukt prom. Kas viņa bija par Ziemsvētku enģelīti tai vakarā! Kas tas bija par prieku un pārdzīvojumu mums visiem!!

      Mēs lēnām un ar lielu baudu lobījām katrs savu apelsīnu vaļā, kur beigās viņa izskatījās kā udensrozīte. Šo lobīšanas veidu mums tikko bija iemācijis viens ļoti jauks un laipns kungs no nometnes, jo apelsīni mums bēgļiem bija nesen atklāts jaunums. Viņš bija bijis muzikas skolotājs Latvijā, un bieži arī nāca pamācīt mums dziesmiņas. Man liekās ka viņu sauca Janis Lubinš. Ar viņu arī iemācījāmies dziedāt uz balsīm ”Tec saulīte tecēdama”, “Saulīt vēlu vakarā” un “Trīcēj kalni skanēj meži”.  Lietojot viņa iemācīto apelsīna lobīšanas veidu, sēdējām ap galdu, lēni ēdām dārgo apelsīnu, pa gabaliņam vien, un katrs gaidījām savu reizi uzvilkt mazo rūķīti, lai viņš mūs iepriecina ar savu griešanos. Pēc tam manā dzīvē ir bijuši daudz Ziemas svētki, bet nevieni nekad vairs neatstāja tik lielu iekšēju iespaidu un prieku kā šie.”

Christmas Eve in Wentorf DP Camp, Dzintra Alverson

            “I have often narrated and described the following event in school assignments and later to my children. It was Christmas Eve at Wentorf DP Camp. The steamer trunk and the little brown suitcase we traveled with from Latvia were packed full with our belongings. Everything in our room was packed away so we could head out to Grohn Camp early in the morning, from where we would board a ship to Brazil. Mommy had even allowed to be baptized in order to get sponsors in the Baptist colony there. Suddenly a message came from the camp government that the entire second floor was quarantined because a boy had contacted measles. There was no travel for all upstairs residents for the next two weeks. All hope for leaving in the morning was gone. The ship would embark for Brazil without us. 

            We stayed in the room, without Christmas, presents, or any celebration. There was a glass bottle on the empty table where Mommy had placed a sprig of a evergreen tree to give us some Christmas feeling. A single candle burned on one of its twigs. We sat around the table, singing Christmas carols in our family choir. Brother Vilnis sang bass, sister Ilga with Mommy sang alto, and my sister Aija and I sang soprano.

            Suddenly we heard someone calling at the window. Mommy walked to the window. Down below stood a unfamiliar woman, who, speaking in English, asked us to lower a basket with some rope. Having just completed our packing, Mommy had a basket and a rope accessible. She lowered the rope. When she pulled up the basket, our mouths were agape in astonishment. There were four large oranges, and a small box containing a small, three-inch metal gnome who, when wound-up with a metal key in the back, marched in a circle as he held an even smaller gnome in his hands. It turned out that the English lady was from UNRA and had heard that there was a family on the second floor with four children, in quarantine, without Christmas, and stranded as they were supposed to leave the next morning. What a Christmas angel she was that evening! What a joy and experience for all of us !! 

            Slowly and with great pleasure, we meticulously peeled the orange rinds back like flower petals, making it look just like a waterlily. This skill had been taught to us very recently by a very nice and kind gentleman in the camp, for the delicacy of oranges was a recent discovery for us refugees. He was a music teacher in Latvia and often came to teach us songs. I believe his name was Janis Lubin. With him, we also learned to sing in harmony songs like "Tec saulīte tecēdama", "Saulīt vēlu vakarā" and "Trīcēj kalni skanēj meži". We sat around the table, slowly eating the precious oranges, piece by piece, and each of us waited for his turn to play with the little gnome, watching as he would delight us with his animated march. Since then, there have been many Christmas holidays in my life, but none have ever left such an inner impression and joy as this.”

Krista is still seeking Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians from the following DP camps, with the hopes of interviewing and photographing them: Altenstadt, Braunschweig, Dillingen, Braunschweig, Detmold, Emden, Erlangen, Eutin, Ingolstadt, Insula, Itzehhoe, Kleinkotz, Lauingen, Lubeck Riga, Lubeck Waldersee, Memmingen, and Paderborn. Krista invites anyone interested in this project to please contact her!
Krista Svalbonas, Newtown Square, PA, USA

You can also find Krista on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For a limited time you can purchase a painting by Krista, with all proceeds going to funding her refugee/DP project; she has interviewees scheduled next year in Seattle, Portland, LA, Grand Rapids, Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Winnipeg (Canada) and Toronto (Canada)… Click here to go to the store!

Mīļš paldies Krista and Lari, for sharing your project and your family Christmas story! If you have the opportunity to see Krista’s art in person, do it – she currently has work on exhibit at The Art & Design Gallery at FIT in NYC as part of “Picturing Space: artists imagine architecture." Coming next year, a "Displacement" solo exhibition at Latvijas Fotogrāfijas Muzejs in Rīga, followed by a European tour of Kaunas, Vilnius and Germany!

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