Monday, November 29, 2010

"From Latvia for Christmas" from Edcon Publishing

Aunt Sophie's old-fashioned customs traveled with her. A place you will read about: Latvia, a land in northern Europe.

Christmas in Latvia
All year, the chaos of a hurricane fills our house. Mom, Dad, Ricky, and I are always dashing to work, or to school, or to meetings. But Christmas Eve and Christmas Day the chaos lessens because the four of us are alone together. That is why I was upset when it seemed that our Christmas holidays might be changed by the visit of Aunt Sophie, Dad's sister from Latvia. A week before Christmas she stood in our living room, gray-haired, meek, and silent. Dad was working late at the post office. All through dinner, Mom smiled and tried to make conversation while Aunt Sophie nodded or mumbled and stared at her plate. She didn't eat a bite, not even of Mom's extra-special chocolate cake for extra-special occasions.

As I finished my last crumb, I felt Ricky nudge me under the table. Together we escaped into the kitchen to do the dishes, in no hurry to get back to Aunt Sophie. After a while, Mom came after us. "Aunt Sophie has traveled a long way. You must be especially nice to her," she said. "She's not especially nice to us," Ricky said. "She hasn't smiled once since she arrived," I added. "She's frightened, Andrea," Mom said. "This is her first trip outside Latvia. Coming here wasn't easy for her. A couple of good-night kisses might help."

Christmas Tree
Riga, Latvia
Her nudge sent Ricky and me shuffling out of the kitchen and over to Aunt Sophie. "Good night," we muttered, each brushing a quick kiss across her wrinkled forehead. "Yes, yes, good night," she whispered, patting our arms as if making sure we were real. Ricky and I raced upstairs. Soon Dad came home. "Sophie! Oh, Sophie!" he cried. Ricky and I dashed to the stairs and peered down to find Dad and Aunt Sophie clinging to each other and crying.

"Edmund, my Edmund, it has. been twenty years!" It was one gloomy meeting. Suddenly, Dad smiled. "All day I've been remembering Christmas in Latvia: the snow, the special bread, and Christmas Man. How I would hide when he burst into our house! And then, how we would sing and dance for him!" "Dad and Aunt Sophie dancing?" Ricky yelped, giving us away. "Come down, you two," Dad called. "Now that Aunt Sophie is here, let's have an old-fashioned Latvian Christmas."

But I wanted my kind of Christmas, with just my own family. Dad went on excitedly. "You kids better prepare something for Christmas Man and rehearse it until it's good. If you don't entertain him properly on Christmas Eve, you'll get brushwood switches instead of toys." "I'll play my guitar," Ricky offered. "Could you teach me Latvian songs, Aunt Sophie?" "Of course," Aunt Sophie beamed, meek no longer. From then on, she and Ricky were always together, humming and plucking out Latvian melodies.

Riga, Latvia: Snow scene
That left me hours to wander around the house alone, feeling disappointed and sorry for myself. Then one morning, Mom asked what I would perform for Christmas Man. "Oh, that's for little kids like Ricky," I muttered. "No," answered Mom, "it's for big kids like Daddy. A Latvian Christmas would be the best present we could give him."

I wasn't happy about it, but I knew she was right. So I asked Ricky and Aunt Sophie if I could rehearse with them. In her funny Latvian-style pronunciation, Aunt Sophie welcomed me. Then the hours flew by in a busy blur as she kept us singing, dancing, and making Latvian tree decorations. Finally, we baked sweet-sour bread, and it was Christmas Eve.

Dad worked late, but we decorated the tree and loaded the table with homemade treats. Snow started to fall, and our house looked, smelled, and felt like an old-fashioned Latvian home. Dad's car pulled up and we stopped talking while he opened the front door. His face glowed and kept on glowing as we ate, read the Christmas story aloud, and sang carols. "What a beautiful Christmas," Aunt Sophie sighed. "Let's do it every year," Ricky said. "Stay with us, Aunt Sophie." Aunt Sophie shook her head and answered, "Latvia is my home. All my family and friends are there, except for you."

For a moment, Aunt Sophie looked so sad I knew she was missing being in Latvia. Suddenly, I realized how much she had given up to visit us. And I'd been thinking only of what I'd given up! I jumped up to hug her, and the room became a blur before my tear-filled eyes. "I wish they all could have come here, Aunt Sophie," I said. And I meant it.

Riga, Latvia
Christmas Market
Just then, Christmas Man, wearing boots, a long coat, and a high fur hat, threw open the door. With his face mysteriously hidden behind a dark beard he was terrifying. "Are there any lazy children here for me to spank?" he roared, imitating Aunt Sophie's Latvian pronunciation. "No!" laughed Aunt Sophie. "Prove it!" insisted Christmas Man. Ricky grabbed his guitar and we sang and danced as Aunt Sophie had taught us. Dad clapped his hands joyfully. Then everyone danced along, even Christmas Man (who turned out to be Mom's brother, Uncle Henry). We twirled and sang until we were exhausted. Finally, we opened our gifts. I've forgotten exactly what I got that year, except for the best present of all: Aunt Sophie and our old-fashioned Latvian Christmas.


1. Most of the year, Andrea's house was ___________
a. quiet and dull.
b. filled with chaos.
c. empty.
d. a gloomy place.

2. On Christmas day, Andrea's family liked _____________
a. to take time to be with each other.
b. to go shopping.
c. to go to work.
d. to spend time away from each other

3. When Aunt Sophie first arrived, she was ____________
a. cold and hungry.
b. excited and happy.
c. meek and quiet.
d. very friendly.

4. Aunt Sophie taught Ricky and Andrea _____________
a. Latvian songs and dances.
b. how to read.
c. Christmas carols from England.
d. card games.

5. On Christmas Eve, the children had to entertain ____________
a. their neighbors.
b. each other.
c. a group of strangers.
d. Christmas Man.

6. When he burst into the house, Christmas Man was _____________
a. quiet.
b. friendly.
c. terrifying.
d. nervous.

7. Andrea's favorite present that Christmas was ______________
a. the snow and the homemade treats.
b. Aunt Sophie and, the old-fashioned Latvian Christmas.
c. Mom's extra-special chocolate cake. d. the one Christmas Man gave her.

8. Latvian Christmas customs _________
a. are exactly like American customs.
b. are completely different from American customs.
c. are like ours, but do not include Christmas trees.
d. are like ours, but include visits from Christmas Man.

9. Another name for this story could be _____________
a. "Andrea Visits Latvia."
b. "Ricky's Guitar."
c. "Christmas Strangers, Christmas Friends."
d. "Latvian Songs and Dances."

10. This story is mainly about __________________
a. a girl who learns to love her aunt from Latvia.
b. Christmas customs all over the world.
c. a brother and a sister who don't get along.
d. a girl who doesn't like her Christmas presents.

Christmas in Riga, Latvia from Youtube:

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