Sunday, December 24, 2017

Baltic Christmas Day 24 - Merry Christmas!

Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus! Linksmų Kalėdų! Häid jõule! May your holidays be warm and bright, and may the New Year bring health and happiness!!!

I’m forever grateful 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, a heartfelt thank you as the series would not have been a success without you. Special mention to my husband for all of his assistance in editing (his specialty is answering the question “I know it’s late, but can you read this and suggest a title?”), artist ZILGMA for the uniquely Baltic logo (she’s also my ‘phone-a-friend’ for culinary questions!) and to Lauris, Mikus and Vilis for their patience with me while working on the enormous labor of love that is 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas.

On this final day of the series, a review of all the wonderful contributions we’ve seen this month. We kicked off 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas with a giveaway, and two lucky readers received a Baltic Christmas magnet to help make their fridge a little more festive! Then Day 2 brought 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 Ilze Kļaviņa with her recipe for cūkas šnukurs! The Minneapolis saimniece supplied us with a recipe and all sorts of tips in incorporating this traditional Latvian holiday food in our Ziemassvētku feast. ImantaDimanta dropped an exclusive Christmas track on Day 4 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas, and the tour dates of the upcoming US Centennial Tour were revealed including stops on the West Coast, East Coast and everywhere in between!

Elizaberth Georgian of the blog In Search Of joined us on Day 5 with gift ideas from all three of the Baltic countries. Then on Day 6 Lelde of Life in Riga gave us a tour of the Jamarka art market at the Art Academy of Latvia.

Barbara Tedrow’s article Kučios, The Longest Night appeared on the 7th day of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas, tracing the Lithuanian family Christmas tradition from her childhood through modern day. Then we hopped across the ocean on Day 8 with author Emily Gilbert, for a look at Baltic Christmas traditions in the U.K.

Day 9 was a discussion of the role of animals in the magical events of the winter solstice: when animals speak on Christmas Eve, and a bountiful harvest, marriage, riches & health can be forecast by watching animals and nature during the weeks around Christmas. Then we gained insight into the journey of the Peace Light from Bethlehem to Europe and across the United States & Canada on Day 10, the tradition bringing light and peace to Scouts and their families across the world.

Andrejs, a new addition to the Minneapolis Baltic culinary scene, provided us with a Beginner’s Guide to Galerts on Day 11, turning this gastronomic holiday mystery into a realistic addition to any holiday table. Then on Day 12 we welcomed Rachel from Baltic Stitches to the series, with a post on an alternative to Latvian Mitten Mania - mini lapel mittens.

Learn how to make kanēļmaizītes with Ilze Ieviņa from the blog Let the Journey Begin on Day 13! Then on Day 14 read about the serious problem of the looting of Latvian archaeological sites in Balticsmith’s article Museum-Quality Viking Artifact or Destroyed Ancient Latvian Burial?, (hopefully) the first in a series of a more in-depth look at this plague threatening our culture and heritage.

On Day 15 we welcomed Kristīna with her article on her choral Christmas tradition and the New York Latvian Concert Choir's annual Christmas concert. Then we traveled to Vilnius on Day 16 for a cup of coffee with Coffee1 on the day their interactive self-service hot chocolate station opened at their Uzupis location.

Photographer Ilze Lucero shared her childhood memories of puzuri with the Day 17 post, and shared her project Portrait of a Latvian Nomad, an ongoing undertaking in honor of LV100. On Day 18 I was honored to present the Latvian web series Lodziņš uz Latviju (“A Little Window to Latvia”) with their December episode featuring kanēļmaizītes, a walk through the streets of Vecrīga all decked out for the holidays, and a Christmas tune from ImantaDimanta!

On the final week of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas we took a closer look at the Lithuanian holiday traditions involving hemp and poppy seeds with Viktorija and her post High on Christmas on Day 19. Latvian mittens made another appearance on the series the following day as Māra Linde introduced readers to the Latvian Mittens Traveling Exhibit, currently making its way around the United States as part of LV100 celebrations.

My sister Zinta gave us a glimpse of the Seattle Christmas market on Day 21 with a video featuring interviews with shoppers and vendors, as well as an appearance by the folk dance troop Trejdeksnītis. Day 22 brought the exciting news that Toronto, ON will host the XV Latvian Song Festival in July 2014. Then on Day 23, Karl Altau presented an interview with Jõuluvana himself during one of his appearance at the Baltic Christmas celebrations in Rockville. I want to know what kind of pull Karl has, that he managed to bring such an in-demand guest to the series this close to the holidays; maybe he can put in a good word to Ziemassvētku vecītis for my boys, they’ve been really well-behaved!

I hope you enjoyed this fourth year of counting down the days to a Baltic Christmas! We’re so thankful to have been part of your holiday preparations this month, and hope you found some Christmas spirit here on Femme au Foyer. I wish you and yours a very merry Christmas and a fantastic New Year.

Until next year,

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...

Friday, December 22, 2017

Baltic Christmas Day 22 - Stay Tuned...

This time of year it is a shared love for tradition and food that brings us together, pīrāgi, kugelis and piparkook bringing our thoughts and hearts (and stomachs!) to the Baltics and our heritage. I would like to keep this flame burning after the holidays have come and gone, and so have invited the Toronto 2019 Latvian Song & Dance Festival organizing committee to join us today on Day 22 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas with a post celebrating another common love - SONG!

Did you know, that Toronto, Canada will host the XV Latvian Song Festival from July 4 to 7, in 2019?

If you can’t make it to Latvia, then we’re bringing Latvia to you!

Latvian Song Festivals are held in different parts of the world each year. Latvia’s is considered to be one of the largest amateur choral events in the world, and an important event in Latvian culture and social life. Traditionally, every festival is about presenting theater, folk dancing, art exhibits, outdoor events, a marketplace and much, much more. What makes each festival special is the unique talent it features.

The two traditional main events, the Folk Dance Show and the Massed Choir Concert will be held in the historic Maple Leaf Gardens venue that has undergone a huge renovation since the last time these events were held there. We are happy to announce that Kristīna Kārklis-Kalniņš and her group Raxtu Raxti will be providing the live music accompaniment for both events!

Raxtu Raxti

But there is more.

Over the four festival days the folk dancing featured will vary from new choreographies to a showcase of old and new dances at the Folk Dance Show. Our festival is proud to announce that one of Latvia’s award-winning dance groups, “Līgo” is coming to Toronto! Not only will they be performing at the Folk Dance Show, but will also be showcasing their talents in a separate concert at Blume Appel Theatre.

To help understand Latvian folk dance, here are a few words from choreographer Zigis Miezitis:
Latvian folk dances go back to prehistory – they were performed in joy and sorrow. Dancing for joy – after a job well done, at harvest time, performing mummery, or for simple amusement during the long winter months. Dancing in sorrow – at funerals, to obliterate the foot prints of the departed and lessen the sorrow of the survivors.

What can we expect of the future? …. Essentially, the ethnic Latvian dances are simple and measured: that is their character. Slowly they are being replaced by faster, more elaborate choreographies. That is to be expected as life in our New Era has a faster pace, less restraint, faster interchange of information. There is a time deficit, inability to process, to evaluate, and separate the useful from the useless. Present day choreographers are professionals, highly educated, creating new dance forms in their occupation but that does not prevent amateurs from trying their hand at this too.

So our dance committee has chosen to highlight these aspects of the traditional festival that compliments Latvia’s initiatives when they present to the world their 2019 festival:
TDA “Līgo” is an award-winning Latvian dance troop under the tutelage of Janis Purviņš, one of Latvia’s most gifted choreographers. His innovative dance reflects the essence of Latvia’s soul, and also what Latvians take pride in… their heritage and their customs. Each new dance is unique, and shows a different dimension of who we are and where we’ve come from.

TDA Līgo

The new choreographies will showcase submissions from dance groups from Canada, the U.S.A., Latvia and various other countries from Europe. As our country evolves, so does our dance. Every tautas deja promises to exhibit each choreographer’s interpretation of the new genre of Latvian dance, while still keeping with tradition. In a break from tradition there will be no judges this time, but you will be able to weigh in… come see how.

Lastly, we have our Folk Dance Spectacle. It will showcase the many dance groups from all over the world coming together to show that tradition can be preserved and yet built upon to reflect the new. Its motto is: Latvia – Together We Stand – In our Love of Dance.

The main hotel will be the Toronto Hilton, located in the heart of downtown Toronto. During the day everyone gets to meet and mingle in all sorts of places in the hotel. During the festival the rooftop terrace will be open for live entertainment, and a piano at the bar available for everyone to join in on what Latvians like to do best – sing!

Toronto has a lot to offer… Why not come early and visit some of its beautiful sites? We’ll keep everyone informed of any important information, as time goes on, on our website:

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United in song, connected by dance. A celebration of Latvian culture!  

I couldn't resist adding these two photos from my very first Dziesmu svētki in Toronto in 1991! (from the Femme au Foyer archives...)

Thanks to the Toronto XV Latviešu Dziesmu Svētki Kanadā rīcības komiteja for the look at the 2019 Song & Dance Festival! The modern day festival is an integral part of Latvian culture, and remains an anchor of Latvian tradition outside of Latvia. I wish the organizers endurance and strength over the next year as they invest in putting on a Dziesmu svētki for the history books! Please join me in supporting them by signing up for updates on their Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram or for email updates, and stay tuned for more on the Toronto festival here on Femme au Foyer over the coming year…

Only two more days left in the series… Please join me tomorrow for an Estonian finale to 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Baltic Christmas Day 21 - Pīrāgi, Piparkūkas and Wine in Seattle

Happy winter solstice!!! Today on the shortest day of the year we welcome two-time contributor to the series, Zinta! A recent transplant to the Seattle area, Zinta brings a fresh look at the Latvian scene there, as well as a fresh set of legs to the folk-dancing troop Trejdeksnītis. Meet some of the vendors at the annual Seattle Latvian Christmas Bazaar as you tour the tirdziņš with our WA correspondent to 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas!

Annual Christmas bazaars in Latvian communities are a typical sight for many cities across North America. Join us as we peek in for a glance of Seattle’s bazaar, which happened this year on the 11th and 12th of November.

The Seattle Christmas bazaar is a one-stop shop for all your holiday shopping! Homemade pīragi, tortes, and apple pastries were sold out by the end of each day. All sorts of jewelry, ceramics, books, and knitted scarves & hats were available. The local Latvian folk dance group – Trejdeksnītis – performed on Saturday, partly in preparation for their trip to next summer’s Folk Song and Dance Festival in Latvia. Also exclusive to Seattle’s bazaar was wine tasting in the lower level of the community center, hosted by the Latvian-owned Abbe Vineyard. And when one got exhausted from all the shopping and socializing, traditional Latvian dishes like sausage and sauerkraut were served up in the kitchen.

Vendors interviewed include Alfreds Stinkuls, Trejdeksnītis, and Abbe Vineyard.

Paldies Zinta! It’s nice to see you surrounded with quite a few familiar faces (sveiks krustdēl and tante Zinta!) and good luck with your tautasdeju career!!

This isn't our first trip to Seattle via 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas; for more on the Christmas bazaar visit Day 3 from last year's series. With the tirdziņš taking place in November (and before 24 Days gears up for the season), I think it is lovely to revisit for the charming holiday atmosphere in these last days before Christmas!

Tomorrow on Day 22 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas we are joined by the organizers of next year’s Folk Song and Dance Festival in Toronto for a look at what they have in store for guests…

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Baltic Christmas Day 20 - Latvian Mittens Warm NYC Holidays

There is currently a traveling exhibit of Latvian mittens in New York's largest needlepoint and knitting store Annie and Company, located at 1763 2nd Avenue on the SW corner of 92nd Street, and it is going to be there until December 31, 2017. This exhibit has already been in San Francisco and Denver, and will be traveling to St. Louis, Cleveland, Minneapolis and Seattle in the upcoming year. Volunteers from the Latvian community and American knitters who admire Latvian mittens are hosting the exhibition.

What can we see in this exhibition?

A collection of 45 pairs of mittens from the American Latvian Association’s folk art collection at Priedaine, Freehold, NJ; these are ethnographically correct reproductions of mittens found in Latvian museum collections. They were knitted for the museum's collection by Latvian Americans during the 1970’s through the 1980’s. There are also posters and several informative books about Latvian mittens.

How did this exhibition come about?

As every great idea – it’s a combination of being in the right place, at the right time… On an August night in 2016, on the last evening of the Latvian cultural camp "3x3" in Gaŗezers, Michigan, no one was going to sleep although the formal event was finished. We all knew that many of us would not see each other until the following August, and more than one new friendship had been made, and fantastic ideas born.

I was discussing Latvian folk costumes with a friend from the East Coast when she mentioned that there are more than 300 pairs of Latvian mittens at the ethnographic museum. Her name is Lilita Bergs, and she has been in charge of the American Latvian Association’s folk art collection at Priedaine in Freehold NJ for 30 years. We kept talking about the museum and folk costumes into the night, and the next morning I went back home, to California.

A few months later in San Francisco, people from all the Latvian organizations in Northern California came together to brainstorm "How to celebrate Latvia100." I was thinking along the lines of “what do people know and like about Latvia,” and as a knitter of many years and familiar with the online knitting community, I was aware of the interest in Latvian mittens. I asked the knitters in (Facebook for knitters, very addictive, think twice before you join!) if people would be interested in an exhibition of Latvian mittens, and received a positive response.

As a result, the idea was born; I knew that there was a Latvian mitten collection, and I knew that there was interest in seeing it – if I could connect the two...

The funny thing is, that from the beginning I sort of knew how I would exhibit the mittens; I would secure them somehow, maybe even hang them... That’s how it started, with the image of beautiful mittens hanging in the air and people seeing them and figuring out how they were made. I called Lilita Bergs and said "I have an idea, your museum’s mittens traveling around U.S. Latvian centers." Lilita agreed.

I talked for many hours about the logistics of the exhibit with Lilita and my friend Una Veilande (who is deeply involved with all Latvian organizations in Northern California), both of whom had very good ideas and suggestions (which I “borrowed”).  At one point the plan became clear; Lilita would send me a box of mittens and a few books about mittens. We would make posters. The exhibit would be big enough to fill smaller rooms, and to inspire larger Latvian communities to add other materials and activities to their local events, but also small enough so that it would not be too expensive to send it to Latvian centers around the United States. Each city can decide for themselves how many resources and volunteers to devote to the project: they can organize lectures about ornaments and patterns of mittens, hold basic or advanced knitting workshops, have books, articles and magazines about mittens and Latvian folk costumes, offer Latvian food, feature activities for children, and exhibit mittens owned by local Latvians with stories about their origins... The last one was my favorite part of the exhibition in San Francisco.

For our mitten exhibition at the San Francisco Latvian Hall we decided to have a “mitten book library,” food, a lecture about the history of mittens, a beginning knitting workshop “What my Grandmother told me” - and my favorite - mittens owned by local Latvians. 6 weeks before the opening of the exhibit I invited members of the Northern California Latvian community to participate by contributing mittens from their homes, and to write a short description about their contribution. In a week mittens started to arrive. Opening the packages was better than Christmas! I can’t decide if I was more impressed by the patterns and tautiskie raksti (folk symbols) on the mittens, or by the stories that came with them. I got a box with mittens from a storage facility near Los Angeles from the Latvian Art exhibition of the 1989 West Coast Latvian Song Festival. Then I received a pair of mittens made in a Displaced Persons Camp in Europe after WWII around 1947 when Viviana was 17; the mittens look uneven, because they are made from a ripped sweater. (Viviana‘s friend got some blue yarn and Viviana got the red & white, and although the mittens were made in terrible conditions after the war by a young knitter, they were still decorated with rich symbolism.) There were white gloves from Rūta's parents’ wedding in the 1930s - a rare example of pre-WWII wool from Latvia. One pair of mittens was made by the granddaughter of so called “Old Latvians,” Latvians who moved to San Francisco before WWII; the knitter didn’t know too much about Latvian culture, but she bought Lizbeth Upitis’ book and learned how to knit Latvian mittens.

Before this exhibition I didn’t know too much about Latvian mittens, but that has changed. For example, I learned that we have a tradition to give tautiskie cimdi as a present for almost every occasion. Being on a “mitten high” I decided to give a presentation on the history of Latvian mittens, and I started reading every Latvian mitten book I had and corresponding with the authors about copyrights. As a result I had a reason to reconnect with my friends in the knitting community in Latvia, Canada, and the United States, and I made a few new friends as well. There are so many of us who like to talk about the symbols and patterns of mittens!

For Latvians, mittens are part of our cultural heritage. They were a demonstration of a young lady’s craftsmanship, and expected from future wives. They were given as presents and were a symbol of good luck. At some point in history specific types of mittens were used as a “yes” to a marriage proposal, as a thank you, or to cement an agreement. A young bride had been making mittens for her wedding since she was young girl, since for an average wedding at least 40 pairs of fine mittens would be needed as gifts. The volume of mittens in a wedding was also proof of the family’s wealth and social status.

Home-dyed wool yarn in a wide range of slightly muted natural shades was used until the middle of the 19th century, when aniline dyes were invented and Latvian women started incorporating bolder combinations of colors and shades into their knits. Latvian women know the common motifs by name, as well as their meaning. For example, the symbol that resembles two letters “E” back-to-back is called Ūsiņš, and represents the figure from Latvian folklore who was responsible for the horses. Mittens that incorporate the Ūsiņš symbol protect the rider during trips, and it would be logical that this mitten would also be given to someone who takes care of horses. There were also special mittens made for funerals.

American knitters admire craftsmanship. They are interested in patterns and techniques. The knitters want to know how mittens are made, what kind of wool was used, and why this specific example was made in the “S “direction. What kind of needles are used?  How do you hold your hand? Which way do you manage several threads? And, yes, of course - what kind of sheep did you have back then? Well, the night between the first and second day of the exhibition in San Francisco was spent googling everything I could find about sheep in Latvia in the 19th century. (It turns out Latvians used to breed short-tailed sheep!) I truly admire the enthusiasm with which I was met in the international knitting community. We Latvians don’t often think of how our way of knitting fits into the world’s knitting tradition. We just knit the way we learned from older family members, a tradition that may be on its way of getting lost in the modern age.

This exhibition was one of those happy projects where many people volunteered their time and skills... There wouldn’t be posters without Linda. Countless hours by Džoanna and Ilona in San Francisco cutting paper and working on the displays, Rūta and Madara who took care of the Latvian food. Una who kept everything going and did most of the paperwork. Raita with her team to organize the exhibit in Denver, and Jeanny for telling her story about her love for Latvian mittens. Inga in New York who is hosting the exhibition now.

Thank you to all the friends who agreed to host the exhibition next year! I’m very grateful for your help and willingness to do this. The exhibit is traveling to the following Latvian centers in 2018: St. Louis at the end of January, Cleveland at the end of February, and Minneapolis at the beginning of March. Seattle will host the exhibition at the end of May, and there is a possibility of the exhibit traveling to Latvian centers in the Midwest afterwards.

If you are interested in hosting this exhibition, please contact Māra at Latvian Mittens, Traveling Exhibition could be available to come to your city as early as June of 2018.

A big paldies to Māra for introducing the Latvian Mittens exhibit to 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas! Our local Latvian community hosts a table at the International Festival in Spartanburg every year, and the most popular items are usually our tautiskie cimdi, so I have no doubt the exhibition will continue to be a success!

To stay updated on the travels of the exhibit, please follow the Latvian Mittens, Traveling Exhibition Facebook page. This traveling exhibit is presented as part of the celebration of the Republic of Latvia’s 100th anniversary; information on LV100 can be found on the Centenary website, as well as on the American Latvian Association Centenary website for events occurring in the US.

Please join us again tomorrow on the winter solstice with a quick jaunt to Seattle, Washington and the Christmas bazaar there

(Knit Like a Latvian, now available for pre-order!)

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Baltic Christmas Day 19 - High on Christmas

Day 19 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas is brought to you by Viktorija. Originally from Lithuania, Viktorija has lived in Denmark & New Zealand, but now lives in Rīga with her Latvian husband. Please welcome Viktorija with her thoughts on the Lithuanian poppy and hemp seed tradition!

Christmas on Cannabis or High on Christmas?

Lithuanians are weird. Besides being a small country that people can barely find on a map (have you ever experienced those awkward stares and assumptions that are way off base?), there is also the connection between poppies and cannabis. Although this association might not be the first thing to come to mind when thinking of the country, I promise that all Lithuanians have some exposure to the two.

Historians and those researching ancient Lithuania claim that the country has always been known for the courage of its people, and old, lively traditions. Whereas some people claim that courage and traditions do not go hand in hand, you might be surprised on hearing another take on that; what if you learned that some lovely substances (which might have an intoxicating effect) might have been involved? Historians disagree on this point as there is no significant evidence on the usage of said substances, however most Lithuanians still eagerly consume them during one of the holiest events throughout the year, Christmas.

Whereas the rest of the world can be quick to pass judgement on hearing being “high on Christmas”, but let me stop you there and tell the archaic story of One Lithuanian Daredevil Fighter who invented a peaceful tradition… eh, whom am I kidding, guys. Long story short – Lithuanians are creative people who know how to make themselves joyous with the help of tiny black seeds that take all sorts of shapes and forms during the month of December.

Roasted Cannabis seed

During the holy evening of Christmas Eve no one in Lithuania will think less of you for consuming considerable amounts of boiled potatoes with roasted hemp seeds. Therefore it's important to ensure that this year's Christmas follows in the old Lithuanian tradition - all you will need is a pack of hemp seeds and some boiled potatoes (folks from abroad who don't officially get it in shops, please don't ask me where to get it!).

Once the potatoes are boiled and soft, prepare your cannabis garnish: in a hot pan (no oil!) roast a handful of hemp seeds for 2-3 minutes til the room starts smelling warm and peaceful... Those, who have already had a chance to try this national heritage dish claim that it is stunning due to its pleasant, simple taste.

Liquid Cannabis

Besides containing a generous amount of vitamins E and D, people claim that cannabis prevents depression (surprise surprise!). So to wipe away all the negative thoughts that you might be having, try consuming cannabis in its liquid form by making some cannabis seed milk.

To produce the liquid medicine that keeps the gloomy winter depression away you will need around 7-8 spoonfuls of unhulled hemp seeds, 1 liter of water, 2 spoons of Agave nectar (maple syrup is ok too) and a pinch of vanilla sugar. Soak the seeds in cold water overnight, strain them, and blend with the rest of ingredients until a rich white. Rinse the leftovers of the seeds and enjoy. After all, when considering the positive aspects of cannabis, one must remember that it has amazing medical characteristics, right?

Roasted Poppies

It was thought that the poppy is a kind of an intermediary between a living man and the sky, and by consuming it the living man has an opportunity to connect with the spirits (hmmm...). So all kinds of poppies - fresh, roasted, ground & soaked - were consumed back then, and still are today. I will not dig deeper trying to find some further historical information on the usage of poppies as an intermediary between man and sky, but will mention the current situation; possibly heavy consumption was the main reason why growing poppies is controlled in Lithuania today.

A mainstay of Lithuanian Christmas Eve (kūčios) is the Christmas Eve cookie, or “little poppy breads,"  kūčiukai. For the process of making kūčiukai you will need: 500gr flour, 200ml water, 15gr fresh yeast, around 50gr of poppies, 50gr sugar, 2-3 spoons of oil and a pinch of salt. The process is quite straightforward; mash yeast with the sugar, warm the water and pour the yeast/sugar mixture along with ½ of the flour into a bowl. Mix well and set aside to rise. Once the dough has nearly doubled in size mix in the leftover flour and add the rest of the ingredients. Let rest until the dough has doubled a second time. Finally form a long "sausage", cut into small squares, and bake for about 6 minutes at 180°C until the pieces become golden brown.

(Editors note: for more on kūčiukai, please see A Baltic Christmas Day 22 - Lithuanian Christmas Eve Biscuits | Kūčiukai)

Liquid Poppies

Poppy milk is thought to be the legacy of spirits. And as if that weren’t enough, Lithuanians tend to consume this precious liquid legacy along with the Christmas Eve cookies (kūčiukai, see above). Double the power, double the fun they say.

To make some poppy milk soak a cup of poppies in boiling water and let them sit overnight. The next day drain the seeds, add around 2 liters of cold water, and blend until smooth, adding a spoonful of honey or another sweetener of your choice. Strain out the remaining poppies and enjoy together with the Christmas Eve cookies, or alone.

You might feel slightly uncomfortable about the consumption of cannabis seeds and/or poppies, and might question the historical aspect of consumption. I agree that this is a grey area that no one talks (too loudly) about, but one thing is for sure; all four ingredients might have some effect. Lithuanian Christmas folklore talks of hearing animals speak on Christmas Eve… well, I’ll let you draw your own conclusion.


Thank you Viktorija! Latvians also have hemp and poppy seed foodstuffs, including but not limited to hempseed butter and poppy seed buns (magoņmaizītes), but I don’t know that there is the same link with the holidays… It’s always interesting to consider the roots of such traditions!

Viktorija is a Lithuanian with a global mindset (has worked in Lithuania, Switzerland, Denmark, New Zealand and Latvia). She is a copywriter and PR specialist, a foodie and traveler; connect with her hereTo read more about Viktorija’s story, please visit Life in Riga for Moving to Latvia: Viktorija’s story.

We’re happy you joined us in what is the final week of the series, and hope you’ll return tomorrow on Day 20 for more on Latvian mittens!

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