24 February 2018
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Christmas Charity Bazaar background

Gunilla Possenius with Professor Vytautas Landsbergis.

By: Gunilla Possenius 

Vilnius´ International Christmas Charity Bazaar is approaching - but how and when did it start?

For the ninth year Vilniaus Rotuse will open its doors for the International Christmas Charity Bazaar (ICCB) on December 3. This annual event has become one of the true signs that Christmas is approaching.

But how many know today how it all really started? Over the years, inaccurate information regarding how ICCB started was circulating. So now it is time for the true story to be told.

Of course, other kinds of Christmas bazaars were arranged in Vilnius before the first ICCB in 2003.
IWAV, the International Women´s Association of Vilnius, under whose umbrella the ICCB now is organized, many years had a bazaar-like event at its November or December Monthly Membership Meetings with handicrafts and Christmas things from local organizations or artists.

Also, SWEA Vilnius (the local branch of Swedish Women’s Educational Association International, Inc.) together with the International Church of Vilnius had its Christmas Bazaar in Sandora Hall in connection with its Lucia celebration in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Vokieciu 1999-2003. 
In 2000, the Swedish Embassy organized a Swedish Christmas Bazaar in the exhibition hall of the Embassy. In 2002, the Austrian Embassy organized an Austrian Christmas Bazaar in the residence.

However, none of these could qualify as International Christmas Bazaars. Not even the SWEA/International Church Bazaar, although the SWEA Vilnius membership counted ten different nationalities and the Church many more.

For a Bazaar to be International a number of countries must be represented and/or participating, selling items from different countries.

History of ICCB

In autumn 2002, Gunilla Possenius (President of the Swedish Women’s Association, SWEA Vilnius) and Åshild Hauge (wife of the Norwegian Ambassador), during a walk in Vingis Parkas discussed the possibility of setting up an International Christmas Bazaar in Vilnius. From previous postings, both of them had experience of International Christmas Charity Bazaars in other countries.

Already, a number of international ladies were involved in the mini-Bazaar and the annual Lucia celebration which, since 1999, SWEA Vilnius was running together with the International Church of Vilnius (of which Åshild was a board member) in the Lutheran church on Vokieciu.

In early December 2002, at an Austrian bazaar at the Ambassador’s residence, Gunilla, with her talks with Åshild in mind, asked Rosie Schwarzinger, the wife of the Ambassador,  whether she would be interested in joining a group with some potential other ladies Gunilla would contact, to try to put together an International Christmas Bazaar. Rosie said she would absolutely not be able to be the motor herself or play an active part, but could join a group in case one was to be formed.

At that event, Gunilla informed Agne Zuokiene, of her plans to try - together with some other ladies - to give Vilnius what other capitals already had, an International Christmas Bazaar. Agne was pleased and would inform her husband, the Mayor of Vilnius.

In January 2003, Åshild and Gunilla informed VIC’s Charity Group (chaired by Ambassador Kåre Hauge)    about the Bazaar plans.  Åshild and Gunilla agreed that the Bazaar was to be run in a truly "Scandinavian" way, i.e. not let any person, organization or entity - private or public - use the Bazaar for their own promotion or ends, but always present it as an endeavour and achievement of a group of women. Nobody would be able to arrange a Christmas Bazaar on her own, anyway.

In January, Gunilla had also contacted Charlotte Davnie, IWAV’s longtime Charity Chair, from the US, and Birute Vizgirdiene, a much needed Lithuanian addition to the group with excellent contacts in Lithuania.     
The five ladies met at the Norwegian residence, on March 19, 2003. There, Birute booked Rotuse for November 22, 2003, and it was agreed that Gunilla should send out an invitation to all embassies, to AISV staff and parents, to IWAV for its members and to SWEA members to a first meeting later in April, again at Åshild’s.

At two meetings in April at Åshild´s, working groups were created and various crafts groups were formed involving well over 40 ladies. As a working name, Gunilla suggested International Christmas Charity Bazaar (ICCB), which was accepted by the group as the permanent name. Anne Elsérius, having some years earlier created the labels for our SWEA glögg bottles, sold at the SWEA Bazaars, was asked to suggest some logos.
One of them was later accepted by the group as the official ICCB logo.

Three of the ladies asked by Gunilla to join her, also took on special tasks for the joint Bazaar working groups, in addition to being responsible for and working with their own country stands: Charlotte Davnie was in charge of Charity, Åshild Hauge coordinated baked products for the Bazaar Café and Birute Vizgirdiene handled contacts with Lithuanian authorities and media as well as translations.
All other contacts, administration and anything that fell between the chairs landed on Gunilla’s table. 
The other four in the original group suggested Gunilla, who started it all, be the first ICCB Coordinator, which was approved by the larger group. 

Our partners Radisson SAS Astorija, who ran the Bazaar Café and arranged for security, and Visus Plenus, who arranged stands and all equipment, both kindly signed all necessary documents for us, since we at that time did not yet have IWAV as our umbrella. 

The first International Christmas Charity Bazaar (ICCB) in Vilnius took place on Saturday, November 22, 2003, 10 a.m.-16 p.m., in Vilniaus Rotuse (City Hall), Didzioji 31.

Participating with stands were Austria, China, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, the Nordic Countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden), Romania, Turkey, USA and the EU Delegation.
Vilnius International Rotary Club and the school Siuolaikines mokyklos centras also had stands of their own. The Lithuanian organizations Mazoji Guboja, Mes Esame, Markuciai and day centre Sviesa as well as Unicef and Atsigresk were invited to display and sell their items for their own charities.

The Bazaar was opened by the then First Lady, Mrs.Laima Paksiene, who at her own request sold her home-baked cookies at one stand. Mr. and Mrs. Adamkus both attended the Bazaar and expressed their joy and gratitude for us having arranged this first International Christmas Charity Bazaar in Vilnius.

The amount raised, LTL 63,000, was divided between Vytatuto Landsbergio Fondas for Vilnius University Children’s Hospital at Santariskes, Vilnius Municipality’s Social Support Centre (Socialines paramos centras), Gelbekit Vaikus (Save the Children) and Sv. Jono Vaikai’s home for street children.

A lengthy report on the first ICCB was published in IWAV’s newsletter, December 2003.

Gunilla Possenius

ICCB Initiator and Coordinator 2003

Category : The world in Lithuania

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