Sunday, December 07, 2014

A Baltic Christmas Day 7 - Christmas, how it was, how it will be

by Zinta Aistars
as featured on Femme au foyer

Day Seven of A Baltic Christmas is by Zinta Aistars. Zinta writes at Zinta Aistars: On a Writer's Journey and is the creative director for Z Word, LLC, a writing and editing business.

I never did believe in Santa Claus. I didn’t need to. I saw his giving spirit in all of us: my parents, my grandparents, our Latvian community in Kalamazoo, Michigan, numbering near 2,000 souls around the time I was growing up—in the 60s and 70s. Our community had grown from the seed of one Latvian choir, gathering World War II refugees from across the ocean and throughout the States, my parents among them.

Our Latvian traditions of celebrating Ziemassvētki (Christmas) were different than those of my American friends. We celebrate our holiday on December 24th, Christmas Eve, and so there was no nighttime for Santa to sneak down any chimney … and we didn’t have a fireplace in my childhood home, no stockings to hang on a mantel. I wasn’t fooled. There was indeed a Latvian Claus,Ziemassvētku vecis, a much thinner version, aged and wise, but I knew he was just a story.

But oh, the preparations!

Most years, my father brought us to choose the live Christmas tree on the morning of the 24th. He took me and my sister into the snowy woods, saw in hand, and we looked for the perfect tree. Choosing and decorating the tree was an integral part of our Christmas celebration. My sister and I hung the ornaments with Mama, and our father strung the lights. He was an artist by profession, a painter, and he had an artist’s eye, so when we came to the final step of decorating, we all stepped back and let him finish. He took a handful of silver tinsel and strung a few shiny strings of it here, there, always in the perfect spot. If there were any bare or uneven spots, he found them all and covered them with glitter. We watched him circle the tree, step back, tip his head and squint his eye, then step forward to hang a few more silver strands in exactly the right spot.

And I do mean—the right spot.

His eye never failed him, and when he was done, no more silver strands sparkling between his fingers, the tree stood shimmering in its perfection before us, a Christmas miracle.

Z Acres Christmas

I waited for that moment when the rest of the family moved elsewhere, probably to the kitchen, where the first smells of Christmas Eve dinner wafted. Then, left alone, I circled the tree, my reflection jumping from shiny ornament to gleaming mirrored ball to twisting and turning glass angel, my face oddly rounded and stretched wide and funny in the colored pieces of rounded mirrors. It made me laugh, and I stifled my laughter in the palm of my hand. I looked so silly on a Christmas ball, hanging on a thread.

More family would come soon. Uncles, aunts, cousins, both sets of grandparents. Excitement filled the air.

I could hear my parents wrapping presents in their bedroom. Scissors snipped. Tape ripped. Paper crunched on the bed. My father would be folding it, running his finger along the folds to make them sharp and straight. He was as precise in his gift wrapping as he was hanging the silver tinsel. It was all art.

No Santa Claus, no, but my father ...

READ THE COMPLETE BLOG AT FEMME AU FOYER: A BALTIC CHRISTMAS, DAY 7. Read the full series of 24 Christmas blogs. 

Kalamazoo Latvian Lutheran Church

Svetku klingeris, a Latvian treat for special occasions

Christmas at Z Acres

1 comment:

  1. Delightful! I love your tree...and the traditions of your family. Wonderful memories. Even though different families have different customs...we were all doing essentially the same thing...celebrating the birth of the Christ child...and sharing our joy with others all around us. Our memories of those happy childhood days sustain us in the difficult days of our "old age"...and we all become a child again on Christmas...