Mykolas Drunga: “Not the Worst Christmas By Far”

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Mykolas Drunga
The Editor in Chief of VMU Newspaper “Universitas Vytauti Magni”

At best, Christmas is a happy family holiday. In any case it’s very much associated with individual memories that may differ widely – both from person to person and within a single individual’s own history from year to year. Usually the most wonderful Christmases are the ones you remember from childhood. That’s an individual rule of thumb. 

For us living in Lithuania today and collectively speaking, Christmas 2009 promises to be less than fully joyous and bountiful, at least as compared to some of the Christmases immediately preceding. So if you’re in your early-to-mid twenties now, you’re best Christmases, individually speaking, would have been those around 1990.

And that’s a judgment that most Lithuanians, even older ones, are likely to share – collectively. In 1989 and the early 1990s, when Lithuania was about to reestablish independence or had just done so, although the country was in even greater financial (not to mention political) stress than it is now, the Christmas holidays somehow seemed much happier. That’s no doubt because the country was decidedly on an upswing and propelled by a strong vision of once more becoming a self-determining, safe, and prosperous European nation.

Alas, a good deal of that magic appears lately to have evaporated. While much of that is due to economic circumstances beyond our individual control, nevertheless some of that loss of nerve is directly ascribable to our own failings as individually responsible citizens of Lithuania and/or the world.

The sad state of Lithuania today is partly the result of our own – and our freely elected leaders’ – mistakes in handling our country’s, and thus our own, affairs.  

A failure of nerve now, I’d suggest, is really inexcusable considering that our nation has been in much worse straits before. Indeed, all of the Christmases of the World War II period (from 1939 to 1945) and immediately thereafter were incomparably less joyous (and incomparably less bountiful) not just for Lithuania but for just about all of the rest of Europe too.

Here’s just one of a multitude of examples archived by the BBC: “My lasting Memory of World War II is…the Christmas Blitz of 1940. The windows of our house were blown in and everything was covered in dust including the chicken which was for Christmas dinner and I remember we had sausage instead at my aunt’s home because of course we had to move out.”

For Lithuania in particular (and other Communist-occupied countries), of course, the period of sad Christmases extended well into the 1950s, even decades beyond.

And yet – that’s the main point I wish to make – people didn’t lose their Christmas spirit, they didn’t give up, they raised Europe up from the ashes of World War II and then, in slow succession, heralded the Prague Spring, proclaimed Polish Solidarity, tore down the Berlin Wall, sang on the Baltic Way, and buried the Soviet Empire just as they had vanquished the Third Reich.

So what is a small economic depression, however temporarily painful, compared to the horrors of war, holocaust, and decades of grinding oppression and poverty? Nothing that we Lithuanians can’t handle. 
Therefore, even if not all Communists and Nazis are quite dead yet and there are some quite potent new evildoers lurking in the bushes, let’s all, for this moment, just wish each other Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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