26 December 2006

Christmas Day 2006

On Christmas Day, the sun was rising in Tapa as I was walking through town to catch the 8:43 train to Tallinn. Early morning (with a cup of coffee in my hand and, now, without an 8 o'clock class) is still my favorite time of the day.

I had brought Chicago: City on the Make by Nelson Algren with me to read while the train jerked and bounced towards Tallinn. But I ran into one of my students, and we talked until the train slid into the Balti Jaam. Why is it some students carry on a conversation in English in public but freak out when they take a test in the classroom, while other students ace their tests but can't put three sentences together to tell me in English what's going on?

In Tallinn, my camera and I had a little more than an hour in the Old City to record hints of Christmas. Electric candelabrums appear in windows everywhere here on the first Sunday of Advent. They have either five, seven, or nine candles and, very simply, both phsically and metaphorically, they bring light to a time of darkness. While I doubt the candelabrums with seven candles celebrate the seven principles of Kwanzaa, I think all of the candelabrums may be connected to St. Lucia Day, which Scandanavian girls celebrate by wearing candles on their head. Go figure.

The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7, two weeks after the Western World. They use the old Julian calendar instead of the 16th century Gregorian calendar. So, in Tapa, the Christmas program at the Russian high school, which I attended, was actually a New Year's celebration.

A variation of the candelabrums in the windows is the citronella-like candles (I mean, they are big like citronella candles but don't smell like them!) in front of shops, bars, and restaurants - really, in front of anywhere you are welcomed to come into. Notice that the sign says "Open", which is not Estonian, Russian, or Finnish.

The House of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads dates back to the 16th century, before there was acne as we know it today. Actually, St. Mauritius, a black Egyptian, was the guild's patron. His black head is the guild's mascot and on its coat of arms. The state banquet Estonian President T.H. Ilves threw for Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh was held here in October.

That's A.H. Tammsaare, who wrote the great Estonian novel Truth and Justice, checking out the Christmas tree in the park named in his honor.

Finally, steadily, as the day progressed, from 10 a.m. when I got off the train to 2:00 when I headed back to the Balti Jaam, more and more people strolled around the Christmas Market.