Christmas comes soon and in the Baltics, especially Lithuania, everyone is preparing for the festivities. Christmas lights have been going up in Klaipeda, Vilnius, and Kaunas since early November, and the trees have been waiting for the start of the holiday season.
I recently visited Vilnius to get a sense of what the Christmas celebrations are like. And to be brief, they are wonderful. Remember the post about things to do in Vilnius from the start of the semester? Picture that, but covered with a light snowfall and Christmas lights, with Christmas music playing everywhere. Honestly, Vilnius is a Christmas must-see. Here are some of the highlights.
- The Christmas Tree(s)
Yes, that’s right. There are two Christmas trees to see in Vilnius. One in Cathedral Square and the other in Town Hall Square. Each of them have their own Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, wisely scheduled at different times so you can attend both of them. The picture does not capture the scale of this tree. It is massive and with incredibly vibrant, beautiful lights.
This other one is the Christmas tree from Town Hall Square, where it helped represent the international community in Vilnius, as part of the International Christmas Charity Bazaar. Members of the community from seven different countries were part of the ceremony as we all celebrated this time of joy, thankfulness, and hope. In times where international politics can become fraught and tense, this is a chance to remember what unites us.
2. Christmas Markets
Speaking of the Charity Bazaar, it is a Christmas market dedicated to bringing the international community together to help schools and non-profits in Vilnius. The Town Hall is full of booths featuring goods from as many countries represented in Vilnius as they can find
. They range from Lithuania to China to Georgia to Guatemala, the United States, and yes, Russia too. In this picture, these tents are different countries offering traditional dishes. Chinese egg rolls, Japanese soup, Irish mulled apple juice, Danish pastries. Certainly, the weather while I was there was very cold (nearly zero degrees Fahrenheit!), the mood was festive and welcoming to everyone. It was a reminder that we transcend our national borders even as we embrace what it is about them that makes us who we are.
Let’s not forget the main Christmas market in Cathedral Square either. Nearly two dozen vendors encircling the base of the Christmas tree, selling hot drinks, foods, handmade goods, and Christmas treats. Wandering between vendors was a bit like walking through Santa’s workshop. There were so many wonderful things that I had never imagined before, while live Christmas music echoed from the stage. Oh yeah, the Christmas tree lighting at Cathedral Square was preceded by an hour and a half Christmas concert. It was a joy to be a part of the Vilnius community and experience this once in a year event with them, not as a tourist, but as a student living in their country, and we were all connected by our celebrations and our joy.
That is the beauty of events like these. We can be all too easily blinded to the true nature of our neighbors around us as our world is filtered through extreme events, categories, and worry. It is all too easy to forget that we are all individuals and we are not as different as we might think.
So, as you go about your holiday season, treat everyone you meet with joy and welcome. See them as your friends and neighbors. Share gingerbread cookies and hot cocoa, sing carols together. Invite everyone to a festive gathering, regardless of politics. At the end of the day, we are far more like each other than we are different.
May all the holidays you celebrate be filled with joy and love!