Sunday, December 23, 2018

Baltic Christmas Day 23 - Kalėdinė and the Magic Harmonica

The time surrounding the winter solstice is magical for the Balts; it was thought that on Ziemassvētki the animals could talk, and unexplainable things happen during the night. For example, in the Latvian Christmas story by Margarita Stāraste Barvika, everyday kitchen objects get a life of their own – the night holds a magic all its own. On the series a few years ago, Barbara Tedrow described her family’s Kūčios traditions, including reading Kalėdinė and the Magic Harmonica by Aloyzas Baronas. 

“My granddaughter Sophie snapped me out of my daydream. ‘Ouma, I’m ready for our reader’s theatre after dinner,’ Sophie whispered… Kalėdinė and the Magic Harmonica by Aloyzas Baronas was new to her. In the story, Kūčios was so special that at midnight the animals could talk. Sophie was doing her best to be patient, but the dinner celebration on the longest night of the year was turning into a personal endurance test…”

Today on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas we are joined by J. Daugirdas of Draugas News. Having received a request for stories to read to children about the magic of the season, they published the short story written by Aloyzas Baronas, Kalėdinė armonika, along with a translation. Thank you to Draugas News for permission to publish an excerpt of the Christmas Harmonica!


Aloyzas Baronas

Translated by J. Daugirdas

These events took place back in Lithuania. Kaziukas was small then and was not yet of school age. He would spend his days playing with his younger sister Elenutė. Some time before Christmas, Kaziukas’ Auntie brought him a gift – a beautiful ball painted with red and green flowers. Auntie warned him, “Kaziuk, you tend to lose your toys. If you manage to not lose this ball that I’m giving you, and don’t puncture or otherwise wreck it, for Christmas I’ll buy you a harmonica. “A real harmonica?” asked Kaziukas. “Yes, indeed,” replied his aunt, “A genuine harmonica, but a smaller one, just your size.”

Kaziukas promised to be good. He obeyed his parents, avoided teasing his sister Elenutė, did not throw any rocks at the rooster, did not pull the cat by its ears, didn’t ride the family dog Margis like a horse, and in general was on his best behavior, as he really needed this harmonica.

But then, just before Christmas, Kaziukas noticed that his ball was gone! He had actually grown tired of playing with the ball, and so it was only just before the holidays that he thought about it. He searched under all the beds and in all the nooks and crannies, but the ball was nowhere to be found! Kaziukas was in a panic. What would happen if Auntie found out that the gifted ball was no more? His Christmas harmonica would never be bought!

Still worrying about his ball, Kaziukas realized that it was Christmas Eve. Everyone was preparing for Christmas, but Kaziukas could focus on only one thought: now he might not be getting his harmonica, if Auntie found out that Kaziukas indeed did not take good care of his presents and toys.

On the day before Christmas, Auntie, speaking with Mom and Dad said, “Tonight, don’t forget to listen to what our horse will say, for on the night before Christmas all animals gain the gift of speech.” Mother said, “You’re joking, of course – I’ve never heard our animals talk!” Auntie was unfazed: “You didn’t hear them because you never listened. They do indeed talk.” “Tonight you’ll be able to listen to them,” smiled Father. “Then you’ll know for sure.”

Everyone laughed, while Kaziukas thought that maybe it would be worthwhile to go to the family dog Margis after nightfall and ask Margis if maybe he saw where his ball was Margis runs around all over the place, knows a lot, and has a keen sense of smell.

But to get out of bed in the deep of the night – is cold and frightening. Or maybe the cat would talk to him this night? The cat is always lolling about in the kitchen. But who would the cat talk to, as it spends most of its time alone? Although – perhaps the cat could speak to itself, like Auntie sometimes talks to herself? And is a cat an animal? Kaziukas’ mind was going ’round and ’round on this, and finally, he asked his mother, who was busily working around the stove. “Mom, is our cat an animal?” Mother answered while putting something into the oven, “What are you asking? Of course a cat is an animal. A small one, but an animal, nonetheless.”

After the Christmas Eve repast, everyone went to sleep except Kaziukas, who listened and listened. He waited until the clock struck the hour 12 times and then silently, he left his bed. The cold air doused him as if it were water, but on tiptoe he reached the kitchen. Next to the stove gleamed the green eyes of his cat. It appeared that the cat had been awakened by Kaziukas’ steps. Quietly, Kaziukas bent down and whispered directly into the cat’s ear, “Hey, cat, did you see where my ball went?” But the cat was frightened by Kaziukas’ unexpected moves. It jumped up and swatted Kaziukas’ on the cheek with its paw. Kaziukas jumped back, rubbing his face, which now was quite sore. Kaziukas tapped the cat on the head and, with a stinging nose, went back to bed. Kaziukas couldn’t fall asleep for quite some time. He was thinking: “I doubt that the cat scratched me deeply. Maybe tomorrow there won’t be any mark.”…

For the full translation, as well as the original Lithuanian tale, please see the Draugas News article, Aloyzas Baronas and the Christmas harmonica taleDRAUGAS (Friend) is a Lithuanian newspaper published in the United States since July 12, 1909, and is the oldest continuously published Lithuanian newspaper anywhere in the world. To learn more, please visit their website; you can find Draugas on facebook here.
Draugas News has also published an index of the 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas, with all five years of the series including titles and links to each article, listed by year. You can find the index here: Femme au Foyer – 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas.

As our countdown to Christmas draws to a close, we invite you to join us tomorrow on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas for one final day of celebration!

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