Day Nine of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas is by Daina of Latvian-American Adventures and Opinions.
The very first Christmas cards were sent in London in the 1840s, and today it is still a popular holiday tradition in many countries. Latvian-Americans send Christmas cards with gusto because we often live far from friends and family, and see one another infrequently. While the custom of everyday letter writing has all but disappeared, it seems that Christmas cards have not yet become a victim of modern technology – other than the fact that in the United States far more cards with personal photos on them are being created and mailed.
Latvians around the world are fond of writing poems or parts of folk songs whenever they pen greeting cards. Indeed, when I began googling Ziemassvētk…, the Google auto-complete feature helpfully suggested pantiņi or dzejoļi (poems) or apsveikumi (greetings) as search options. In Latvia pocket-sized books containing various poems and greetings are published. One such book, “Dzīve, mana dzīve,” has ten pages of Christmas and New Year’s poems.
During Latvia’s Soviet occupation organized religion and religious holidays were outlawed, which meant that Latvians living under Communism celebrated New Year’s instead, and sent appropriate greeting without religious connotations. Many residents of Latvia have continued this custom, and cards received from friends and relatives there often still reference the New Year but not Christmas.
If one is friends with a Latvian artist, then at Christmas one might be lucky enough to receive a handmade card. Well-known Latvian-American artist Jānis Kalmīte included miniature watercolor paintings in his Christmas greetings. Best known for his large oil paint depictions of the threshing barn (rija in Latvian), Kalmīte’s holiday gifts were typically a small painting of this farm building in winter. My parents received several such small paintings from Kalmīte in the 1970s and 1980s.
Sending Christmas greetings is a tradition which helps connect people to one another and often even to their heritage, thus let us hope that this custom is one which continues.
Paldies Daina! A topic wholly suited to your name! (Dainas are a traditional form of Latvian music or poetry, and as explained above are often utilized in greeting cards.) You can catch Daina on twitter @mana_dziesma, and please join us tomorrow for a traditional Lithuanian family Christmas on Day 10 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas!