23 December 2008

Christmas Eve (in Estonia)

Even though it is only December 23, it is basically "Christmas Eve" here in Tapa. Most of the shops (two years ago I would have said "stores") closed at 15.00 today (like they do in the States on the 24th) and will be closed tomorrow, Thursday, and even Friday. Ten years ago, grocery stores (ahhh, there it is again) would have been closed for three straight days, too.

The Selver calendar in my kitchen says that December 24 is Jõululaupäev (literally, Christmas Saturday, or Christmas Eve), December 25 is 1. jõulupüha (Christmas Sunday, or the first Christmas Day), and December 26 is 2. jõulupüha (the second Christmas Day). Students and colleagues have explained to me that "Christmas" in Estonia, that is, the day presents are exchanged and verivorst is eaten, is December 24. Then, December 25 is a day of rest, and the 26th (Boxing Day in the UK and Canada) is a day to visit family and friends. At Tapa's St. Jacob's Lutheran Church Püha Jõuluõhtul Jumalateenistus (Holy Christmas Night church services) will be at 17.00 on December 24. Then 1. jõulupüha services December 25 will be at 14.00 (kindly allowing folks to sleep in), where individuals will be baptized and confirmed.

There has been a little "Christmas magic" here in Tapa (in lieu of sunshine, I suppose). During the last couple of days of school last week, I showed "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and Dr. Suess's (not Jim Carey's, as students had hoped) "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." After each screening, I pulled up the blinds to reveal a steady stream of snowflakes quietly covering the grey slush outdoors. Then, Friday night, stepping out of Tapa's cultural center after the Virumaa boys, Virumaa girls, and Virumaa young men's choirs' annual Christmas concert, more snowflakes fluttered down beneath the street lights onto the slippery sidewalk. It snowed today, too, as "shoppers rushed home with their treasures...".

The coffee and walnut pie I baked this morning (pictured above on my kitchen counter) and took to the librarians this afternoon was my last official holiday "obligation", if you know what I mean. Last night was the teachers' Christmas party at the Wild Buffalo Saloon. Given the location, everyone dressed up like cowboys and -girls and did a little line dancing. I wore an $8 Indian "headgear" from a costume shop in Tallinn and drew Christmas trees on my cheeks with green finger paint. You can feed the six or seven buffalo that live on the premises of the restaurant/conference center/tepee park. They walk into a stable built into the restaurant (the place is in the middle of nowhere, so I'm sure they can get around any public health codes). You lift up a long, rectangular window. The buffalo stick their wet noses through it and unroll their skinny, black tongues. Then you drop a roll covered with sunflower seeds.

I made biscotti (for the first time in Estonia) Sunday for the half dozen teachers I usually hang out with. I finished my Christmas shopping Saturday and Sunday in Tallinn. I sent my last package to Illinois Friday afternoon (albeit a present for a nephew whose birthday was in November). I attended Tapa Gümnaasium's Christmas service Friday morning at church. I saw the annual 12th grade Christmas play Thursday night. This is something of a Tapa Gümnaasium tradition: The 12th graders (two years ago I would have said "seniors") write, produce, direct, and star in their own production, which they present to the entire community, including the gümnaasium's graduates who are back in Tapa with their families for the holidays. Earlier in the day, I bought myself lunch at the elementary school's Christmas bake sale and craft fair. I dropped the last of maybe a dozen Christmas cards into the mailbox Thursday morning.

I had the honor of playing Jõuluvana (Santa Claus) for a third grade Christmas party on Monday. We sang "Jingle Bells" together in English, and everyone was a little startled when I added "Ho-ho-ho-ho" after "...laughing all the way." Before that, I attended the teachers' union's annual Christmas dinner, where, like the last two years, I got my first taste of the season of verivorst.