About Us | Bookmark Us     

I'm dreaming of a Baltic Christmas

By Adam Mullett

If you are passing through the Baltics or just living in there and have your mother calling you demanding that you come home for Christmas - don't worry. Tell her you can't make it and send her some Baltic trinkets to keep her happy. City Paper has done the legwork for you and compiled a list of must haves for the festive season.

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have some of the oldest cultures in Europe, and there are many gifts and souvenirs available that have much more value and use than a set of Matroshka dolls or an Ushanka, which you might find, stamped with a Soviet star or the hammer and sickle.
The ubiquitous souvenir that visitors will find in all three Balticcountries is amber. Amber is interesting for people who are not from the Baltic Sea region and for Steven Spielberg fans that just love Jurassic Park.Amber, known by some as 'Prussian gold,' is fossilized tree resin somewhere between 30 and 90 million years old. Lithuania claims to be the biggest amber country in the Baltics, but all three countries sell it by the truckload.

The most common use for amber is to make jewelry, like necklaces or rings. These can be bought in any tourist district, but if you really want a souvenir to remember, go to the beach after a sea storm and trawl the sand for pieces of amber that wash up with the tide.


If you have been out on the town in a Lithuanian city, it is likely that you have sampled one of the country's oldest products. In fact, the first mention of the country 1000 years ago, was when monks mentioned a mysterious land that produced a wonderful herbal liqueur now called Trejos Devynerios. The bottle with '999' written on it would make a wonderful gift for someone at home who is into world tastes. You can pick up any of the three varieties of the drink at any shop or supermarket.

Linen is another of Lithuania's cultural legacies, which some diehards swear by. The tough clothing fiber made of flax isn't widely used by commercial producers, but has come back into vogue with independent designers discovering new and fashionable uses for the organic and long-lasting material. If you like the crumpled look, then search out one of the many linen shops in the country.


Latvia is a cold country so it is no surprise that its best keepsakes are useful in winter. Woolen mittens and socks made by old ladies in the traditional way can't be beaten to stave off the cold. Latvian weavers often use natural pigments from wild plants to dye their wool and adorn them with historic or personalized symbols. You can pick up mittens in the Christmas markets in the Old Town leading up to Dec. 25.

Riga Black Balzams is also known to keep you warm in the winter and has more interesting side effects than woolen mittens. The strong liqueur is great on its own, in cocktails or even in coffee for those who can't stomach Monday mornings in the office. This black and very bitter, but distinctly sweet drink weighs in at 90 proof and like its Lithuanian and Estonian brothers, can be found all over the country.


For around the home, Estonia offers its traditional wooden butter knives, which are used instead of metal knives for health reasons. Locals believe that food is better for you when eaten with wooden cutlery. Most come with pretty decorations and are available in markets or specialty shops.

History books proffer that marzipan comes from Reval, the city now known as Tallinn. Amazingly realistic marzipan fruits and other objects are made from this tasty treat and can be purchased from specialty shops, or the supermarket. Don't forget to try the other lovely sweets on offer.
Vana Tallinn represents Estonia in the heavyweight category. This 45 percent alcohol liqueur is sweet with a hint of rum, flavored by various natural spices, including citrus oil, cinnamon and vanilla. Cocktails abound or for the adventurous or a drop in a dark beer will render a special treat. This lovely drink is in stock in most shops.