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It's not easy being a jõulupuuehe, for two reasons: you can't wait to be picked off your perch at the store, plus you carry the added burden of being a compound word in Estonian. This makes life very difficult, since people tend to want to break you up according to their English language tendencies.

The first examples of Estonian compound words that come to mind (since they were often written incorrectly, as two words) are from a list of things to bring along to camp: ujumistrikoo (bathing suit), skaudivorm (scout uniform), taskulamp (flashlight) – Oops, no, that's an Estonian-wannabe compound word. Not unlike snowblower (lumepuhur).
I'm no grammar teacher – which became painfully ob-vious when I recently goofed up writing hapukapsa supp... (sic). Sick indeed; my Canadianness got the better of me that time, because naturally it's one word – but the rule of thumb I recommend, is if in doubt, write it as one word in Estonian, because it probably is! One specific and integrated concept = one word.
Jõulu/puu/ehe, Christmas tree ornament. It's most romantic that ehe is also the word for jewel, brooch or pendant (plural ehted = jewellery), so you are in fact bejewelling (ehtima) your beloved tree and home.
In searching for more Christmas-specific Estonian words, I turned to local equivalents of the Home Depot holiday flyer, those of Bauhof and K-Rauta, "imported" building and garden supply chains, as the names suggest. They sell both the very traditional Scandinavian electric advendiküünal (advent candle), which is the most popular light ornament you'll see on people's windowsills in Eesti – 7 candle-shaped lights on a triangular wooden base – as well as the jewels of the New World, icicle lights. Ask for a jääpurikakujuline valguskett (!) "icicle-shaped light chain" or valguskardin, light curtain. Christmas lights in general are: jõulutuled or elektriküünlad, "electric candles", my preferred nostaglic term de funk. The new LED (light-emitting diode) lights are called LED tuled, read as one word, like Led Zeppelin.

The one and only spruce native to Estonian soil is the harilik kuusk, "common spruce", known to the rest of the world as Norway spruce (?!). But it's no secret even here, that the balsam fir (nulg, balsamnulg) is the best at holding on to its needles or okkad, which also means thorns (okaspuu - conifer; okastraat - barbed wire; okassiga - porcupine; okas tagumikus - pain in the butt). But I digress... Pines (mänd, pl. männid) are not used as Christmas trees in Eesti, unless there's a shortage of spruces, like on Kihnu island.
Sled - kelk; crazy carpet - lumeliugur; fake tree - kunstkuusk; firewood - küttepuud; wreath - pärg; garland - vanik; Christmas tree stand - kuusejalg ("tree foot!"); verivorst - blood sausage; seapraad - roast pork; sink - ham; hapukapsad - sauerkraut; hõõgvein - mulled wine; piparkook - gingerbread; turkey - kalkun; stuffing - täidis. NB: It's a good idea to introduce sült as jellied meat rather than head cheese to your non-Estonian friends, for these days there are usually no heads involved. Only cute little piggie feet.
Holly (ilex, from the Latin) and mistletoe (puuvõõrik) are not associated with the holidays in Eesti. Instead, an old tradition is to make decorations and geometric jõulukroonid (Christmas crowns) to hang from your ceiling, out of reeds (pilliroog). And just as trick-or-treaters don't get off easily on mardi- and kadripäev in Eesti, you must sing Santa a song (laul) or recite a verse (salm) on jõululaupäev (Christmas Eve).
So when you go to vanaema's to read this newspaper and take her that poinsettia, jõulutäht ("Christmas star"), don't forget to throw some jääsula ("ice melt") on her doorstep and replace that hard to reach säästupirn (energy saving lightbulb). And throw some impressive compound words at her, like allmaaraudteejaam, made out of 5 words: under-ground-("iron")/rail-way-station i.e. subway station.
Here's to rahu maa peal (peace on earth), inimestest hea meel (good will towards... everybody!) Don't be shy about racking up those compound words in the new year.

Riina Kindlam,



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