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The western part of Europe has already started its Christmas celebrations with the beginning of December, with season's decorations, street illuminations and little Christmas markets in the old towns, while Baltic cities remain bleak and gray. The snow, this usual Christmas decoration which brings joy and happiness to the city above all superficial, lustrous rattles, has this year circumvented the three Baltic capitals, leaving it up to the Christmas trees, glintwein and presents to cheer up people's thoughts.
The carefree, childlike joy a visitor experiences from Christmas markets across Europe (be it Strasbourg, Bonn, Copenhagen or Stockholm), inevitably returns us to the blue dreams of fairy tales that were lost more than 50 years ago here.
At Christmas time the distance between the Baltics and Europe becomes quite stark. One can clearly see what has been lost across 50 years of Soviet occupation. Much has to be done to get back that vision and to make up for one's lost time. The outgoing year has seen the Baltic states move a small step closer to their beloved dream of joining the European Union and NATO, and therefore to the much hoped for prosperity and security they promise.
But for now, Christmas wishes for many are so simple. "We just wish that Santa could bring us some sweets," wrote some pensioners and kids last year to one Latvian daily. The poverty level in rural areas is striking. In Latgale, eastern Latvia, disposable income per household member is only about 45.54 lats ($73) per month. It doesn't leave much for sweets even at Christmas.
The charity campaigns activated around the holiday season cause one to wish that the money and support they provide would arrive sooner rather than at year's end, so this generosity could be employed with greater impact. It seems many organizations, clubs, political parties and businesses have finally woken up to the discovery that the phenomenon of poverty, of orphanages, children's hospitals and nursing homes, actually exist in these countries. Unfortunately it means they will probably be forgotten, and conditions of ignorance and apathy surrounding us will be again with us for the rest of the year to come.
But hey, it's Christmas time, when most people are rejoicing with their families, giving presents and attending events. Since most of our staff, here in Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn, will be doing the same thing, except, perhaps, our Mr. Grinch, we all wish you a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous and Happy New Year 2001, and hope you'll stay with us in the new millennium.