Margaret captivates her granddaughter by recalling a story told to her by her own grandmother, Ida, born in 19th century Russia. As a marriageable young woman, Ida had to demonstrate her noodle-making skills in front of her prospective mother-in-law. Her ability to cut thin noodles meant success. Imitating Ida, Margaret shows the youngster the ideal way to hold the knife.
In the past, a Latvian girl could prove herself worthy of marriage through the quality and quantity of multicolored mittens she could knit. Sometimes she learned to knit as young as four years of age. By the time of marriage, a girl might have knitted more than 100 pairs. She gave mittens to the minister, to close friends, to the driver of her wedding carriage. During the ceremony, the bride and groom wore a specially decorated pair that they kept on while eating a celebratory meal after the ceremony.
When she arrived at the groom’s house, the bride had to lay a pair of mittens across the threshold before she stepped over it. Afterward, she presented mittens to all the new relatives and suspended some from above the hearth, attached them to doors, hung them for the pigs, sheep, cows, horses and bees.
While the marriage knitting requirements faded among Latvian descendants in the U.S., some knitters today are reviving traditional Latvian mitten designs.
Norine Dresser’s latest book is “Multicultural Celebrations” (Three Rivers Press, 1999). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.