It reached me the way the best things do: by word of mouth. Epp's cousin's husband informed me yesterday evening that there would be a super sale between the hours of 10 pm and 2 am at Lõunakeskus, the gigantor shopping center on the edge of Tartu, where prices would be insane.
I was told that everything at Lõunakeskus would be 50 percent off and my wife informed me that this might be a good opportunity to do some Christmas shopping. I decided to wait until midnight to drive there though, thinking that I would beat the crowd. But it seemed that all of south Estonia had decided to show up at the same time I did. Automobiles were parked everywhere, and you could barely navigate the parking lot for fear that you might run somebody over.
Inside of Lõunakeskus I was shocked to see everything operating at midnight as it typically did during the afternoon. They were even serving food at the cafes. Estonian teens lingered while pushy older people with bags full of discount stuff elbowed their way through the crowd, all while the loud sound of eurodisco emanated from the ice skating rink which was covered in a blanket of mist.
I tried to get into Timberland, but there was a line outside the door. Instead I drifted through the throngs of holiday shoppers to Seppälä, lured by the promise of staring at advertisements featuring attractive Finnish models. Suddenly I was surrounded by cute pajamas and thoroughly modern dresses, bathrobes with hearts on them, and jackets with too many pockets and zippers.
The best part about the Finnish models is that most of them look like my wife. This happens to me all the time. I see a woman somewhere, like in an advertisement on a wall in a store in Lõunakeskus and I think, "Hmm, there's something about her that's different. I feel some strange connection with this person." And then it occurs to me: ah, she looks like like Epp. That would explain the cosmic connection. How embarrassing.
The only problem with being in Seppälä is that I just didn't want to buy anything. This feeling really scared me, because as I passed all the other shops filled with unruly passionate crowds, I couldn't think of anything I wanted to buy. Did my cousin really need another shirt? No. Does my daughter really need another box of colored pencils with Moomin Papa cartooned on them? No, though I genuinely like Moomin Papa. Does my naine really need another paper mache reindeer? Absolutely not.
I couldn't believe it, there were thousands of people going crazy at Lõunakeskus at midnight, and everywhere I looked, all I saw was useless crap. It was if some combination of Ebeneezer Scrooge and Mikhail Gorbachev had seized my soul, sucking all the Christmas capitalist American delight out that I knew as a child.
But wait. After waiting to get into Sportland I realized that there was one gift I wanted to get my daughter: a set of cross-country skis. I have a fantasy of loading up the Woody sometime in January and setting out with my tüdruk for Otepää to recreate the Olympic heroics of Kristina Smigun and Andrus Veerpalu in our own time.
The only problem was that I know nothing about cross-country skiing. And I was unsure, at 1 am in Lõunakeskus surrounded by south Estonian pagan shoppers, how tall my daughter was. Did she come up to my belly button or just my waist? I couldn't remember. And as attractive as it was to go home with a really great deal, I saw that the cross-country skis for kids didn't cost that much anyway, and I decided I'd rather buy the real thing than settle for any random set up lastesuusad just so I could go to Zavood one night and tell everyone about how I saved 100 krooni.
And so I trudged back to my car through the layers of mist and eurodisco, perhaps the only empty handed shopper in all of Lõunakeskus. I definitely felt less festive after encountering the hard candy of Eesti Christmas consumerism. Yet at the same time I felt refreshed that I still knew that the spirit of the season is not to be found at an ice skating rink at a south Estonian mall at midnight, but at home after sharing a few steamy cups of hõõgvein mixed with red wine, vodka, and everything in between, with your loved ones.