Christmas! Deck the Halls, trim the tree, buy, give, eat, fa-la-la-la-laaa.
For myself, this is certainly not the perception of Christmas I was raised with. But, growing up in an ever-commercialised Australia, it seems to be the Christmas that now confronts my children. Is this experience of, what is meant to be, the birthday celebration of Jesus Christ, the same for people in other parts of the world? Happily, thus far in my experience, it does not seem to be.
One of the immutable – and I must say, enjoyable – factors of ‘doing’ Christmas in Riga, Latvia, is being able to experience it in ‘winter’. For many northern-hemisphere citizens, you might be asking yourself, “Is there any other way?” Having been born and grown up in Australia, this is only my family and my ‘third’ experience of Christmas in winter. Growing up with a plethora of songs in some way connected to ‘snow’, describing joyful experiences of consuming copious amounts of rich, heavy food, whilst comfortably hibernating before a roaring fire was, in some ways, irritating. The reality was a yearly family gathering in rising summer temperatures. No sight of snow, but, often, no lack of flies and sweat.
Whilst it is a very pleasant change to be able to (finally) identify with these Christmas carols and prepare for our family Christmas in much cooler climes, different parts of the northern-hemisphere seem to have their own ideas as to how Christmas is ‘done’.
Christmas 2010, my family and I were in London, which is a most exciting place at any time. But, London at Christmas time was truly exhilarating for us. There were Christmas decorations, lights, music and caroling, seemingly, everywhere. It ‘felt’ like Christmas! However, as I stated at the outset, as with Australia, the downside was the prevalent commerciality, with its accompanying pressure to buy, buy, buy.
Our Christmas in Rome, in 2012, was a different experience again. There was no snow, but it was cold and the Italians were very serious about leaving you in ‘no’ doubt as to what time of year it was! The Christmas lights were ‘incredible’! The decorations were beautiful. The huge Christmas tree on the Spanish Steps, with a laser-lit star at its peak, the most beautiful I have seen to date. Christmas songs, music, colours and smells everywhere! Truly wonderful!
Christmas in Riga in 2014 is a new experience for our family, again. I would say that one of the most enjoyable things I am appreciating most about Christmas here is how ‘understated’ it is. Yes, there are lovely Christmas-lights in the streets, but there is no sense of Christmas being ‘forced’ upon you. We have purchased and set up a ‘real’ pine Christmas tree – enjoying the look and smell, with its accompanying constant need for vacuuming errant pine needles. Many apartments and businesses throughout Riga have decorated their windows with lights and candles. Our family has enjoyed perusing several of the squares in Old Town, which have Christmas markets selling locally produced handicrafts, food and beverages such as karstvīns, which is similar to mulled wine.
Whilst, like London and Rome, there does not appear to be much in the way of making apparent the ‘real’ message of Christmas – that is, ‘Jesus’ – there seems to be more opportunity to stop and contemplate what this times of year really means. Christmas! How do I prepare for Jesus’ birthday in Riga, Latvia? No differently than the way I did in Melbourne, London or Rome. ‘Advent’ is contemplated and celebrated around the world in many ways, but, for me, it is simply thinking about the incredible gift that God gave us. I focus on Jesus which I can do anywhere, anytime. Where do I start? Firstly in being grateful for God’s amazing love for me; and, then, the blessing of being able to share that love with my amazing family, friends and others in Riga, Latvia.