Latvian culture looks and is very different now compared to how it was like when I grew up under a Soviet regime. During 30 years of independence it has evolved and is now a mixture of Latvian folk heritage and Soviet and Western influences.
For centuries we have been a farming nation and so people still prefer home grown vegetables and fruit, free range eggs and meat. Many have vegetable gardens or allotments – even those who live in flats. As you might expect, therefore, people have great respect and love for nature and the environment and use every opportunity to be close to it. Latvia’s land mass is 62% forest with more trees planted each year than are logged. Additionally, there are several big rivers, hundreds of pristine lakes and thousands of natural ponds.
As well as swimming in these waters, Latvians are into picnicking, fishing, camping, water sports, swimming, cycling, wild berry and mushroom picking in season as well as skiing, ice-skating, ice hockey and saunas, hot tubs and even ice swimming in the winter. When out for a walk, you’ll always bump into joggers, cyclists and the “stickists” (Nordic walking with sticks).
To non-Latvians, it can be amusing to see men (and sometimes women) sat by small ice holes in -20ºC on a frozen lake, fishing and even dipping in the lake during sub-zero temperatures. It can be hard for some to get their head around!
As far as traditions go, celebrating Midsummer’s Solstice on the evening of the 23rd of June throughout the night is a big deal. Everyone heads back to their friends or relatives in the countryside. Homes are decorated with birch saplings. People make and then wear oak leaf wreaths. They jump over bonfires, swim in the lake and have BBQs ‘til after dawn. The other big Latvian celebration is the Song and Dance Festival held every five years. Up to 40,000 participants perform in front of audiences of up to 500,000. We hold several world records for this!
Latvians know how to celebrate their weddings. They are two days long and packed with plenty to eat and drink, with dancing and fun activities with the newlyweds subjected to various married life tests like: changing the nappy on a doll, splitting a log with an axe or being quizzed as to how well they think they know each other.
Name days are celebrated in a similar way to birthdays. Latvian calendars display the dates of name days and then friends and family visit the name-day person with flowers or chocolates. The giving of flowers is a huge cultural thing in Latvia and you’ll see this at birthdays, name days, school graduations etc. Even men give other men flowers on such occasions!
Latvians are very artistic and creative – they love to make handcrafts, music, and poetry. You can even see such creativity in our place settings at tables and in the presentation of food – even salads and soups can become works of art!
Latvians are a calm people in general and so demonstrations and street protests are very rare and if you take the time to get to know a person here beyond their initial shyness, you’ll find a friend for life.
Welcome to Latvia!