As twilight touched the snowy, wooded landscape, the little girl saw her worried mother standing on the front porch of the tiny cottage and knew she was probably in trouble. The girl hid her frozen hands deep in her pockets and shivered as she spoke. “I’m sorry, Mama.”
“Where have you been, child?” Her mother pulled her close. “I was so worried about you. And what were you doing in the forest when I told you to stay in the yard?”
“I was helping the fairy bird that was caught up in the snow.”
“Oh, such nonsense, child,” her mother said as she pulled her daughter’s hands free from her jacket pockets. “And where are your gloves?” She rubbed the small girl’s hands that had turned blue from the cold.
“I used the gloves to warm the bird,” the girl said, as her mother led her to the hearth fire where her grandmother was quietly knitting.
“And did the bird use them to fly away?” the grandmother asked.
“Yes,” said the little girl, who knew, of all the people in the world, her grandmother would believe her.
The fire danced in the weakening light of day, and the child held her hands as close to the flames as she dared to warm them.
The grandmother smiled as she watched the little girl.
“Cold hands, warm heart,” she said. “Grandmother, you would have saved the bird, right? Even if it meant giving up your only gloves and getting just a little bit cold?”
Before the grandmother could answer, the girl’s mother wrapped a warm blanket around her daughter and said, “Don’t you dare encourage her.” She kissed the top of her daughter’s head and added, “Dinner will be ready shortly.
The grandmother waited for her daughter to leave the room before saying in whispery tones, “I would have done exactly what you did.” She winked.
The girl giggled despite the tingle that had crept into her warming hands. “Do you think the fairies are happy that I saved the bird?”
The grandmother put down her knitting. “I think they are very pleased,” she said. The grandmother then took the key that she kept on a velvet ribbon fastened to her belt and used it to unlock an ornately carved box that sat atop the hearth. She pulled from it a small pouch of herbs and placed them in the child’s hands.
The little girl took in the heady scent of the herbs that were so precious that they must be kept under lock and key.
“You did a great service for the fae and now maybe, if you wish hard enough, they will give you something in return.”
“All you have to do is wish very hard and toss the herbs into the flames.”
The girl, who was now warm and comfortable in front of the fire of her very own house with the scent of stew that mingled with the drying herbs and spicy candles, could think of nothing she wanted more than what she was experiencing at that very moment—warmth, nourishment, and love. “I have everything I need, Grandmother,” the girl said.
The grandmother, who was wise beyond the girl’s comprehension, looked to the child’s hands. “Are you sure there is nothing that you need?”
The girl smiled. “Maybe I could wish for new mittens.” The grandmother nodded.
The girl took the herbs and held them tight. Then, while whispering to the flames her heart’s desire, she tossed the herbs in. The flames bellowed in response. Her wish carried with the smoke that rose up the chimney and weaved between the trees and rose again higher to the very stars that twinkled in the cold night sky.
The next morning, resting on the hearth, the girl found a pair of beautiful red wool mittens embroidered with the symbol of Auseklis, the midnight star, and a sign of protection. And as she looked to her smiling mother and grandmother, who stood beside the fireplace where the embers still glowed, she knew that as long as there was love, magic was real.
MITTENS AS BLESSINGS
Mittens have been around for thousands of years. Warmer than gloves because fingers grouped together produce and hold heat better, they were a must-have for sailors, sleigh drivers, and anyone else who had to work outdoors in harsh winter climates. The oldest existing mittens are over a thousand years old and come from Latvia.
In Latvia, every pair of mittens tells its own story and brings with it its own wish. The women are the tellers of tales and bringers of wishes through the patterns created when knitting the hand-warming works of art. Tradition stated that before an unmarried woman entered into marriage, she had to fill her dowry chest to the top with mittens. Every pair of mittens was unique. They were given as gifts to bless the bride’s new husband and family members and used as blessings for her new home and their natural world.
The beautiful patterns associated with Latvia mittens are deeply rooted in mythology, with many symbols representing blessings such as family bliss, protection, strength, success, and wisdom. So the next time you go shopping for winter apparel, look closely at the mittens you find in the store. Many bear patterns that are the descendants of these ancient symbols, which will carry wishes with you as lights in the darkness.
EASY WOOL SWEATER MITTENS
You will need:
An old sweater
Embroidery floss (your choice of color)
Make a pattern by tracing your hands (leaving a ½-inch seam allowance) on paper. Remember to leave room at the wrist. Cut out patterns.
Turn sweater inside out and lay flat, lining up bottom hems. Lay patterns on the bottom of the sweater, lining up wrist with the bottom hem. Cut out patterns, making sure to cut through both the front and back of sweater. Once cut out, pin the fronts and backs together.
Sew around the mittens, leaving a ¼-inch seam allowance. Remove pins and trim loose threads and any extra fabric from seams. Turn mittens right-side out.
Using embroidery floss and needle, stitch decorative symbols of your choice to accent your new mittens. I have stitched a traditional Latvian Midnight Star, or Auseklis. This beautiful starry snowflake pattern is associated with the winter solstice and protection from evil and the shadows of the underworld.