04 December 2010

Oh, Christmas Tree

A young man at an outdoors store told us that the town bowling alley was no longer, the woman at the Valmiera Dance Theater box office told us that there was nothing playing until Sunday, the movie theater was playing 'Harjis Poters.' So, we went to the Tourist Info center for a suggestion. "There's the Christmas Tree lighting tonight," the teenager there offered with an unenthusiastic shrug. "It's not very long but...." Yes! Yes! We'll take it! 'Not very long,' sounded perfect on such a cold day.
At 5pm, the start time we were given for the lighting, it was already pitch black and people had really started to show up. The attendees were basically split in half, one group around the tree and one, across the lawn, around the little stage that was set up against the Valmiera Cultural Center. A group of school children in Santa hats sang carols and a table sold light-up pinwheels and gingerbread cookies. We kept our sites on the tree, though, wanting to catch the moment it lit on video. About ten minutes of recorded carols followed and then, finally, a man came up to the microphone to speak. "The mayor! The mayor!" we thought and got ready for a countdown.
Turns out, he was just introducing the next act. Latvia has a long folk singing tradition, so it was no wonder that a merry band of costumed, tambourine-playing singers took the stage. Comfortable taking our eyes off the tree for the moment, we watched as their farm animal costumes made shadows against the building and they switched from song to skit, all in Latvian. It was beginning to get very, very cold and even the little kids that wrestled in the snow around us seemed to be running out of steam. Then, the matriarch songstress began to shout something and we thought, "A countdown!" Turn, point, click on..... and then the singing started again.
Things went like this until something was said that made the crowd around the stage make their way across to the tree. They all dashed by us, mostly children, their parents, grandparents, great grandparents (people have children really young here) and a few ironic teenagers. It couldn't have happened at a better time, because our left and right feet, respectively, were beginning to hurt with frozenness. We had just begun to walk away when the crowd shift began and we scurried back to our spot in the snow waiting for our cue.
Of course, our cue was in Latvian. So, we missed it. It didn't sound like a countdown, but rather a chant by the folk singers. Honestly, it seemed a little anticlimactic, but hey- you can't have Boyz II Men lip syncing 'Silent Night' at every Christmas tree lighting. We still felt tickled by our luck, being there in what some may call the Rockefeller Center of the Vidzeme Region of Latvia on the night of the Christmas Tree lighting.

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