For Latvians Christmas is the time when all family comes together. And December 24th is peacefull Christmas Eve when families go to the church and afterwards have Cristmas meal together. Many of the Christian traditions in Latvia are intertwined with earlier pagan traditions. Christmas Eve is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, but in many families it is also a celebration of the Winter Solstice, the time when days become longer and the nights become shorter again. We just celebrate Christmas in both ways – pagan and christian – as they both are about the light coming into life. Also on morning of the 25th of December families goes to the church. Well, usually people choose – 24th or 25th (or 26th).
What happens with Christmas gifts? In many resources on the internet I found this: „Latvians believe that Father Christmas brings presents on each of the 12 days of Christmas starting on Christmas Eve.” I don’t know where are these strange Latvians who believe in it. I don’t know any family which does it. And actually I red it for the first time today on the internet... We receive gifts just once – 24th on evening or 25th on morning. Usually in some special moment (for example, when the family goes to the church) when nobody sees it – gifts are left under the Christmas tree. But it’s not so easy to get them: in order to get a present you have to recite a short poem while standing next to the Christmas tree! So kids before Christmas are really learning by heart a lot of poems. Well, you can also sing, play some music instrument or even dance to get your gift.
Christmas meal: by christian traditions on Christmas Eve it’s not allowed to eat meat, but Latvians are real meat lovers. So there is Christmas Eve when there have to be 9 different dishes (by pagan tradition) which do not include meat (by christian tradition). These traditions perfectly live together. You definitely have to eat boiled grey peas – if you do it, you wont have to cry the next year.
Traditional food for Christmas is grey peas with bacon, gingerbread, bacon rolls, and pork – all head of a pork on the table. Of course, we drink hot wine – German „gluhwine” is all around the world.
Other pagan traditions you will probably meet in Latvia on Christmas time involves a wooden block that is rolled around the house to drive away any evil spirits from the home. You will see it even in the Riga Old Town and for example Etnographical Open-Air museum. By the way, I think that the Etnographical Open-Air museum in Riga is the best place to get to know Latvian traditions. In the countryside people often go masquerading from one home to the next while singing and playing different games – they also do it in open-air museum. In this masquerade will also definitely come The Death. Don’t be afraid – if you are a friend of Death and especially if you dance with Death during Winter Solstice – you are not going to die the next year.
Happy Christmas – Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus!
Pictures: 1) Celebration at Open-Air museum with traditional head of a pork 2-3) Taditional food: bacon rolls and grey peas with bacon 4) Winter Solstice masquerade