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Christmas markets ring in the festive season

  • 2012-12-20
  • By Laura Kenins

WINTRY SCENE: It’s not so cold after a few mugs of hot mulled wine.

‘Tis the season to prepare for the holidays and start feeling festive, and in Europe there is no better way than visiting the traditional Christmas markets. Though Riga doesn’t approach Christmas markets with quite the fervor of German-speaking countries, where construction begins in late October, the city markets offer enough food and baubles to suit most people, and tend to keep the canned Christmas music in moderation. This year’s Riga markets can be found around the city center – with the largest on Dome Square (Doma Laukums) in Riga’s Old Town, and others in most of the Old Town’s squares. With the perfectly wintery weather recently, an evening strolling around the markets with the snow falling feels perfectly festive.

Markets are an excellent place to stock up on Christmas gifts (and buy local in the process), with vendors selling all sorts of typical Latvian handicrafts including mittens, textiles, wooden toys and dishes, jewelry, pottery, and many food vendors with everything from honey to sausages to gingerbread. Prices are often competitive, and most of the time you’re buying directly from the person who made the item, or someone close to them. If you get cold, you’re never more than a few meters away from a vendor selling mulled wine or hot blackcurrant juice. The Dome Square market also offers direct post to Santa Claus, sheep and other events.

Anyone with little ones in tow, or who just enjoys looking at small creatures, should make sure the Esplanade market (next to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral on Brivibas boulevard) is on the itinerary. For the month, the “Rabbit Kingdom” from Lielvarde – an animal park run as part of a rehabilitation program for ex-convicts – has relocated to the park, with fifty rabbits taking up residence in various miniature wooden buildings. Staff is on hand to give visitors a bit of carrot or cabbage to feed the rabbits, and sellers from the Esplanade market claimed in an LNT television report that having the bunnies around improved everybody’s mood.
The Baltic Times asked some Christmas vendors for their take on the markets:

Zane, linens and other textiles

How many years have you been working here?
This is my fifth year, but this stand has been here for fifteen years.

Do you make the items yourself?
The scarves and the hats, I make myself. The linen comes from the LM Radosa Darbnica, all in Riga.

What do you do the rest of the year?
The rest of the year I work from home, making these scarves and hats.

What do you like best about the Christmas markets?
I like the sounds of it, the resonance. I like the people, the Christmas tree and the music.

What’s your favorite thing about Christmas?
I like being together with family, meeting with each other, and joy. I have grandchildren now, so I like being together with my grandchildren.

What do you do to keep warm?
(laughing) I talk with people, show the products, and drink warm tea!

Regina, gingerbread and cookies
She says that “This is my second year” at the market.

“My relative bakes the cookies, [and as] I’m no good at cooking or baking, I sell them for her. They’re made in Kegums,” she adds. During the rest of the year, she says that she’s “a pensioner, so I just work at the Christmas market.”
And to the question what she likes best about the Christmas markets, Regina replies: “Everything is beautiful! I like the snow, I like that everyone comes here.”
“Christmas is the time of the solstice, it becomes closer to springtime, the days start getting longer. It’s a time of happiness,” she says. And to stay warm as the temperatures plummet, the secret is “to clear the snow, drink hot tea. And there’s a heater in here – it’s warm!” she says.

Ilze, honey and beeswax products

How many years have you been working here?
It’s my first year.

Do you make the items yourself?
No, I’m just selling them. I work for the company, we’re based in Cesis. I work here all year round, but not on the production side.

What do you like best about the Christmas markets?

What’s your favorite thing about Christmas?

What do you do to keep warm?
I don’t get cold here, it’s warm inside! o
Dome Square market, 10:00-20:00 daily, Fridays and Saturdays until 22:00, until January 13, Esplande market 10:00-20:00 daily, and other locations