Saturday, December 23, 2017

Baltic Christmas Day 23 - Baltic Santas Rock Rockville

Today on the 23rd day of a Baltic Christmas I am very excited to welcome Karl Altau, veteran of three Baltic Christmas Santa sightings in 2017; featuring his interview with the jolly old Jõuluvana himself!

Within the span of eight days this month, three Baltic Santas have visited hundreds of children at the Latvian Center in Rockville, Maryland for three separate Christmas gatherings. 

Estonian Jõuluvana arrived on Saturday, December 9 to visit the Estonian School in the Washington, DC-area. A week later, Kalėdų Senelis visited with the Lithuanian community. Finishing up with Latvian school festivities on December 17, Ziemassvētku vecītis arrived to much anticipation to dole out presents and nuggets of wisdom. With that, Santa’s work was done for another year in the Nation’s Capital. Of course, many are expecting individual return visits on Christmas Eve.

The three Santas who visited Rockville were immersed in three different traditions which often seem vaguely familiar. Of course the language, with songs, poems, and declamations are naturally different for each of the three nations, and they distinguish one Baltic Santa from another.

24 Days of Baltic Christmas was fortunate to have an exclusive opportunity to meet with and discuss Jõuluvana’s visit with the Estonian community, and preparations for this year’s Christmas.

24 Days of Baltic Christmas: Hello Santa, it’s a pleasure to meet you here in Rockville. Or should I say Jõuluvana?

Jõuluvana: Thank you. It’s my pleasure being here. Either way works fine. As the Estonians say, “a good child has many names.”

24 Days of Baltic Christmas: How do you find the time at this time of year?

Jõuluvana: At this stage it’s actually not too bad. Everything has more or less been taken care of back North. All the lists, packages, checking things once or twice. Certainly checking things more than twice to be sure. Ok, well there’s still some checking to do. But it’s not that bad.

24 Days of Baltic Christmas: Are the elves helping you as usual? Do you have to deal with immigrant visas and permits and such?

Jõuluvana: (chuckles in such a way that his belly shakes) – Oh heavens no. My team is made up of full-time residents. They don’t have such worries. As I’m covering the Estonian side today, it’s important to emphasize that my helpers are known as päkapikud. They have been out scouring around and leaving provisional gifts in stockings and shoes already for the nice children. Once December comes around, things really start gearing up. These päkapikud have been doing this since forever, and they really have to be in shape too. Diet counts, but they aren’t counting calories either. They could do it with their eyes closed. Of course, I couldn’t do my job without them. By the time I start on my rounds, much of the logistical work is already done. I just have to take my sleigh, that is if there is snow, and visit all the homes. These days, all the electronic gadgets and GPS help quite a lot. Rudolph’s red nose was groundbreaking in its time, but was actually quite rudimentary. Now it’s all satellite navigation, especially on those days we’re up in the air.

24 Days of Baltic Christmas: So just how exactly do you divide your time between the Estonian gig and the other visits? And what about the similarities and differences between visiting Estonia and places like Rockville, which are certainly outside of Estonia?

Jõuluvana: The schedule does seem a little overwhelming at times and pretty complicated. These days I really have to rely on my Google Calendar to coordinate with my team. But coming to visit Rockville was actually easy stuffings. I have to thank the local support team at the Estonian School. They had prepared the program, and got me a nice chair by the Christmas tree. All I had to do was walk in, sit down, and do my thing. When I go to Estonia on Christmas Eve, it’s a whole other ballgame. We’re in full  Jõuluvana mode then. The Estonians are very particular about this, as you can imagine, so I’ve got to be on my toes.

Being in Rockville was a little more laid back. It’s more of a practice run for me, as it is for the kids. They know I’m going to be there, and I know it’s going to be fun. The kids never cease to amaze me. You would think they have never seen Jõuluvana before. Some haven’t. The little ones are always blown away. When I tell them to listen to their parents and teachers and to be nice, you know they are really taking serious mental notes. For the older kids, it's just a little bit of reassurance that this time of year can be fun and filled with something sweet, like some Kalev chocolates. Whether it's the Estonian children, or Latvian, Lithuanian, there is that common thread. It's true practically anywhere in the world.

24 Days of Baltic Christmas: What were some of the highlights of your time with the Estonian School kids?

Jõuluvana: It’s seeing the little ones faces, and also of their parents. I can tell the old ones are living this up vicariously. They remember. It’s a magical moment. When the kids are reciting for me, sometimes I know the pressure is on for some of them. My role there is to make sure they do a good job, but also to make them feel that it’s okay if they flub a line a line or two. We’ve all flubbed. I can’t count the times I’ve flubbed. But we’re all stonger for it.

24 Days of Baltic Christmas: Where there any disappointments this time?

Jõuluvana: No, everything was really a blast. I enjoyed it immensely. The school folks were nice enough to pack me a box to go afterward and I loved the Estonian cabbage, pork with hot Põltsamaa mustard – I call it “Estonian wasabi” – and the marinated pumpkin slices. Unfortunately, they had run out of the blood sausage and kringel (a sweetbread made with cardamom or saffron and raisins and twisted into the shape of a pretzel – Ed.), which are two of my favorites. I suppose I’ll have to come back again next year then.

24 Days of Baltic Christmas: Would you like to say a final word before then?

Jõuluvana: Häid Jõulupühi ja Head Uut Aastat! (Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! – Ed.)

Rockville Lithuanian festivities

Thanks Karl, not only for your contribution to 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas, but also for the intense Baltic Santa representation in the DC area! If you would like to hear more about Karl’s "Mixed-up Estonian Melting Pot Christmas," check out his post from the series last year... A sincere thank you to Jane Raub for the beautiful photos!

For any questions to Jõuluvana or the Baltic Santas, please direct them to the JV/BS representative in the DC area, Karl Altau: @kaltau. Thanks for joining us for this short Baltic Christmas medley, and please visit tomorrow for a the final day of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas...

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