Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's Eve

Where do I start? We are having a wonderful but busy time here in Latvia. Yesterday (New Year’s Eve) Steve and I woke up early and got dressed for church. The service started at 10 a.m. and we thought we had plenty of time to get there when we left at 9:30 a.m. When we stepped outside we were greeted with a cold, rainy drizzle. We had a 15-20 minute walk to the trolley that would take us to the church. We stood in the rain for another 15 minutes before our trolley came. They run about every 15 minutes so we must have just missed the last trolley when we got to the stop. We were 15 minutes late getting church and as we approached it, I saw someone walk out the front door. Then Steve’s cell phone rang and I heard him say, “Hi! I see you!” It was Ziggy calling to find out where we were and within seconds we were giving each other big hugs! Ziggy is the brother of one of our exchange students studying in Tennessee. I met him two years ago when I came to Latvia on a mission trip with the Faithful Men singing group from our church. Steve met him on his first trip to Latvia, which was about six years ago and has seen him every two years since then. The church service was very nice and Milda, the retired pastor, preached. Apolonija arranged for Martins, our translator, to be there so he translated the service for us. As I sat there listening to the music and taking it all in, I saw BIG snowflakes falling outside the window. Finally! SNOW! But it was gone after the service. Latvia (and the rest of Europe) is experiencing a mild winter and has had unusually warm weather and very little snow. I hope to see some snow before we head back home. Anyway, the music in church was sung in Latvian and was beautiful. There was even a quartet of men. The Faithful Men would be proud. When they first came here, the men were almost non-existent in the church. But the service today had almost as many men as there were women!

After the service, Steve and I talked with Milda for a bit and passed out the gifts that we brought from others in the U.S. Milda said her heart was so happy to see us! I also talked with Ilze, the mother of another one of our exchange students. She and I have exchanged letters and cards for the last few years and it was nice to see her, too. It is hard to converse with her in English but we were able to communicate with simple words and hand motions. There was coffee, tea, and some light food available after the service and everyone sat around a table having some fellowship time. Martins, our translator offered to drive us back to the hotel and we left about 1 p.m. I was glad because I was getting a little cold and damp. The wet weather didn’t do anything for my hair, either!

Steve and I relaxed for a bit at the hotel before Gita picked us up at 5:30 p.m. She took us to her home where we were greeted by her husband, Juris. Ivars, Dzintra, and Dzintra’s daughter, who attend Gita’s church, also came. We celebrated New Year’s Eve together and had a delightful evening. We also learned some Latvian traditions that are done on this night. We were served perogies, which is a meat filled pastry, and hot wine. Then we sat and the table and started off with peas covered with chopped bacon and onions. Peas represent tears and Latvians end the year by getting rid of all the peas in the house so there are no tears for the next year. Then we were served ham, pork, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy. Juris made the sauerkraut and hand picked the mushrooms for the gravy. Gita said that he likes to experiment when he cooks and never makes things the same way twice. Our food was delicious!

We observed some more Latvian New Year’s Eve traditions as the evening went on. We moved over to the Christmas tree where Gita presented some gifts to us. But, before we could receive our gift, we had to sing a song or say a poem! Ana recited a poem in Latvian, Juris did his “slowly, slowly, slowly the snow is falling” poem and moves his arms up and down making snowing movements. He repeats that phrase over and over and one wonders where he is going with it! Apparently, this is something he does every year and the family teases him about it. Anna and Dzintra quoted another poem together. Then, it was my turn. I couldn’t think of anything to say so I said, “Roses are red, Violets are blue. . .I’m so happy to be in Latvia with you!” Steve quoted a poem that I had never heard before. I guess I still learn something new about my husband once in a while! Another Latvian tradition was a game we played. There was a tub of water on a chair and the names of different countries were taped to the sides of the tub on the inside. We had to stir the water in the tub and float our little boats made up of walnut shells. When our boat stopped, that was where we were going to go in the next year. Mine landed on Venice and Steve’s landed in Japan. If we didn’t like our choice, we got to stir the water again. Another tradition we observed was melted leaded pigs and dropping the hot lead in cold water. We had to open the pigs with pliers first to find a hidden message inside of them, like a fortune cookie. After we dropped the hot lead in water, we had to analyze the shape of our newly formed lead. Mine just looked like a big blob! Steve’s was interesting and was in several pieces. Then we left and went to the Freedom Monument Square in the center of Riga where we heard the Prime Minister and President of Latvia speak before the fireworks. The fireworks were equivalent to our 4th of July fireworks show in the U.S. and they were shooting them right over our heads! I don’t think we’ve ever been that close to fireworks and it was neat. It wasn’t too loud for me because my processor is set up to cut off the sound at a certain decibel level. But, I enjoyed them nonetheless. There were people everywhere, partying and drinking and having a good time. Steve and I walked back to our hotel instead of being driven back and enjoyed our “midnight” walk. We always take a “midnight” walk on Christmas Eve, which is our own tradition. It was so nice to take our first “midnight” walk on New Year’s Eve halfway across the world (and we celebrated New Year’s Eve before the U.S. did!) May 2007 be filled with God’s richest blessings for you. Happy New Year from Riga, Latvia!

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