GREY IS THE COLOUR OF MY TRUE CHRISTMAS DAY. The changing paradigms of winter solstice.

I remember a period in my life when Richard Hawley's "Coles Corner" was my top Christmas song, and every Christmas morning began with waking up after a two-week-long Santa Claus children party marathon I worked at to a lonely, sentimental, groovy, nostalgic and, pretty much, grey city.

capital r riga, 2019, winter holidays in riga

The song was and still is one of the greats. Yet, I am not sure if Richard Hawley himself is aware of what the tune means to the listeners during the holiday season. Its harmony, retro sound, and his voice all together stir up a lot of feelings to many, including me. Back then it worked its magic when my holiday life consisted of, basically, poor relationship management supported by a long mental distance between me and my own family living in the country and topped up with too many children parties I hosted as Santa, elf, or any other fictional childhood character.

Yet, the "Coles Corner" resonated and still resonates with much more hope when there's the promise of the holidays to be white. Unfortunately, for the last decade a chance of snow has been something of less than a 50:50 hit. This year will be just one of those holidays when Riga is totally grey, and it seems that the whole country will be too. If I recall 10 previous years (and keep an open ending for more recollections I might have ignored), it only seems to me there were snowy Christmas in Riga in 2018, 2014 and 2012. Instead, it was raining this year and in 2011, I guess; the climate promise of pop culture is quite full of bull in reality.

capital r, capital riga, latvia, 2019
Latvian winter as found on the Internet (2010s).

I remember two specials occasions; 1) when the solstice of 2013 was warm enough to have a night ride with a friend of mine (also probably having the same sentimental breakdown), and we would cycle through the empty, pleasantly quiet city for hours until three or four o'clock in the morning without getting cold; and 2) there was a messed up year somewhere in between the last decade when it was around +10°C at winter solstice while it was the same temperature during summer solstice half a year earlier. I haven't even yet put my motor scooter to sleep this season as well, because it has never been really cooler than +8 - +2°C for two weeks already straight. What white Christmas are we talking about then?

Christmas is pretty much changing from what we know it to be these days. Everything is affected - the habits, looks, environment, shadows of Christianity and capitalism; and it will change, nationally and internationally, more than ever in the future. For example, this holiday marks Riga having a record amount of Christmas-themed local crafts markets - Doma Square, Esplanāde, Hanzas perons, Kalnciema kvartāls, VEF kamerzāle, K.K. fon Stricka villa, also including the regular Āgenskalna Market and Central Market, and whatnot.
But this holiday also marks the first year there are Sakura cherries blooming in December instead of May - what an abnormality is this?
Yes, the snow is on an nation-wide absence this year, and we need to prepare ourselves for it taking place more often in the future; the White Christmas, as promoted by destination marketing organisations, American movies, popular songs, and ads or as praised in old folk songs, is fleeing our latitudes, and it is important to be honest to ourselves - the climate change will totally rewrite the colour palette of winter season in the North as it rewrites the season and temperatures in Australia now.

In recent years, a wave of articles in the States beg parents to avoid telling their offsprings their presents were brought by Santa Claus. The reason is that there are indeed millions of poorer families that cannot afford every iPad a child wants from Santa even if one's been only nice rather than naughty (also another concept that's changing, because - how can you be all times nice when there are so many dickheads on the Internet).

Maybe I was saved when the Santa Claus tradition in the nineties was pretty much related to him only bringing the same uniform candy bag to every kid at school and being either your manual training or arts teacher or an anonymous drunk most of the time; there really was no mysterious trust in this guy. Maybe that's why I did not feel betrayed when some kids I knew had the impossibly expensive Lego while I got 3 tangerines, a handful of chocolate truffles, a handkerchief and soap bar from "Santa". So, I don't really know how it feels to be "The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot", but I can very much relate - it is pretty degrading when you try your best to be achieve, but are just a poor kid that gets forgotten by the promise of capitalism.
As Philip Huff says in his article about another Dutch holiday "tradition" of Black Pete being fairly roasted these days, that "...modifying traditions isn’t the same thing as destroying them. In fact, it is the polar opposite: it’s about trying to keep them alive".
The promise of White Christmas fades and really turns into Elvis dreaming, then many prefer being honest and fair rather than "naughty or nice", Brits are probably having their most vegan holiday feast in history this season, and the zero waste community in Latvia and across the globe advise to ditch presents and wrapping we don't really need. Personally, I try doing the honest thing and modify many of the proposed traditions; for example, most of my presents have turned into experiences rather than items for several years already.

Also, more and more every year I prefer seasonal songs from an alternative Spotify playlist I created when working in the radio years ago rather than those bringing "joy to the world" that sound more and more naive and outdated, when less and less people, including me, can relate to a more and more distant Lord, who'll come around this time of the year.

Yet, it still feels like the holiday season somehow. Without snow, without meat roast, without tons of presents and miracles, and without Santa or Jesus babe. But with more town markets to meet up, buy small and local, and enjoy togetherness; with more reasonable charity to help people even before the campaign ends; and with winter cycling. I don't mind modifying traditions constantly as long as, when stripped off our regular holiday habits, the most important stays - love, belonging, togetherness and hope. Even if the solstice turns grey until the end of the world.

Mārtiņš Eņģelis
editor-in-chief

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