I don’t know whether it is just my imagination, but it seems to me that Christmas is starting earlier here in Latvia than when I first arrived. A huge Christmas tree was in evidence when I visited one of the large shopping malls on Sunday 22nd November, which seems early by Latvian standards. Actually, one of the things I’ve liked about living here is that Christmas does not start at the end of September but at a more appropriate time in the season!
Advent started early here at the ‘Army’ too. I had great fun, along with a group of other ladies, on Friday evening. Melissa, one of the American officers here in Riga, holds a monthly women’s fellowship and always has something a bit different for us to do. I missed the first part of the evening, but by the time I arrived Melissa was busy teaching the group how to make snowmen as Christmas decorations out of white socks and dried beans. How great it was to have an excuse to ‘fiddle’ and do the kind of things I enjoyed doing as a child. For my British readers, it was like ‘Blue Peter’ all over again, complete with Melissa showing us ‘one she had made earlier’. It was great fun. I even gave my snowman a name, so that ‘Benny’ is now sitting on my windowsill along with a stray plastic poinsettia that somehow escaped getting packed away with the Christmas things last year. Yes, I know, I’m sad – or perhaps even worse, already starting my second childhood. After having a break for coffee and snacks, we then moved on to make hanging snowmen decorations with lolly sticks and sparkle. I even managed a very few words in Latvian which meant I could communicate, if only a little, with the ladies present. They at least had a laugh at my expense when I got the word for ‘pumpkin’ and ‘shoes’ in Latvian muddled up. It was a great opportunity for ladies, to relax, laugh, and maybe forget some of the problems with which they normally have to grapple.
I’ve been introduced to a new Advent tradition already this year. On Saturday 28th November I visited Sarkaņi, a visit I have described in more detail in another post. We had to have the meeting early because the officer and people from nearby Liepa had a special engagement. They were going on the annual ‘Gaismas Gājiens’ or ‘Light Procession’. This is a procession around the town which takes place at the beginning of Advent, in which all the churches take part. It starts at the Library where the corps currently worship, and goes round each of the major buildings in the town, including the school etc. In each place the procession stops to pray for what happens in that building, recites the Lord’s Prayer and lights a candle. It seemed a lovely idea to me to wrap a whole town in light at the beginning of this significant season of the year.
And finally in my early Advent musings, I am actually writing this on the first Sunday in Advent, and have just lit my first Advent candle. On a recent visit to the corps in Iecava I was given a lovely gift of a plate and four candle holders representing the four regions of Latvia. This will be the last Christmas I spend in Latvia, so I’ve decided that from now on my Iecava gift will be my Advent ‘wreath’ so that, each year as I light the candles, I will be able to remember Latvia and the people I have met here.