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The Holidays Are Coming

As you’ve probably noticed, it has gotten a bit cold outside, which can only mean one thing – winter is just around the corner. And where there’s winter, there are the holidays. They come as a package and nothing changes this, even the Soviet regime couldn’t.

This in turn means that through the years many traditions have emerged in the Baltics. Though these traditions vary from one nation to another, there are some similarities. First there is the food. In Britain people are accustomed to having roast turkey and Christmas pudding. In Lithuania there’s poppy milk and herring. Latvians and Estonians have a tradition of baking ginerbread cookies (piparkukas/piparkoogid) and share them between friends and family.

Then there are the Christmas gifts, which, if not carefully selected, remind giftees of tchotchkes from the nearest gas station. Therefore is it important to really take your time and pick out something creative, useful and interesting. So why don’t we ever take a couple of minutes to think these small gifts through?

When it comes to small stuff, we automatically get very indifferent, unless it’s a diamond ring of course, and pick the first thing that is closest at hand. It’s a vicious circle, especially for guys– you don’t care about the souvenirs because you think that the people who receive them don’t care either, so you start caring even less and end up bringing home a bottle opener from Egypt with an Eifel tower engraved on the side. When it comes to bringing souvenirs from Latvia, it’s fairly simple.

Every place with ‘SUVENIRI’ written above the door will offer you a wide range of one and the same clay plate, but with different names of the cities, a set of amber beads and socks and scarves made of wool. However, if you venture into other boutiques and into the markets, you’ll find a wide variety of knitted items with traditional symbols, amber everything, leather goods and furs. If you happen to drive past the town of Sigulda you’ll also be able to buy some wooden canes with traditional ornamentation and designs burned into the wood.

If you’re looking for a good Christmas gift, you should definitely take a look at Latvian sweets. Laima, the main Latvian chocolate factory, produces a special range of Christmas themed chocolate sweets every year, and it’s only available around Christmas. The only thing to mention is the local pottery. In addition to the clay plates, there are mugs, cups, bells and little angel-shaped ornaments. However, when people are looking for traditional Latvian souvenirs, they often simply buy local beer and Riga Black Balsam, which has become a popular souvenir over the years, a much appreciated beverage on cold winter nights mixed with hot black currant juice.

By Anton Ponomarenko