Easter 2017 and 2018
In Latvia, Easter is known as “Lieldienas,” a term meaning “Big Days” and originally the name of the ancient pagan spring equinox festival. When Latvia became a Christian country, old pagan equinox traditions and new Christian traditions mixed, to a degree, and were celebrated during Lieldienas.
|2017||14 Apr||Fri||Good Friday|
|17 Apr||Mon||Easter Monday|
|2018||30 Mar||Fri||Good Friday|
|2 Apr||Mon||Easter Monday|
The “old beliefs” concerned the coming of warmer weather and of longer, sunnier days to Latvia’s cold, northern climate. Many would wake up early and ritually wash their faces with clean, running water. Some would also go off to see the sunrise on this day. And there was also the tradition of swatting people, particularly children, with pussy willow branches to bring “good luck”.
Most of the old beliefs have died, but a few of the practices remain nonetheless. For example, Latvians still often spend time on a tree swing, preferably on high-up terrain, on Easter Morning. Sometimes, they build the swings on or just before Easter as well, though this is less common now. Few worry, however, about burning the Easter swing on the following Sunday to ensure that evil witches can make no use of it.
Today, 80 percent of Latvia’s two million people are Christian, about a third being Lutheran, a quarter Roman Catholic, and a sixth Russian Orthodox. Special church services will be held on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. Some also observe Maundy Thursday, called “Green Thursday” in Latvia, and Easter Monday as part of the holiday season.
Easter eggs are very ornately decorated by many Latvians. The traditional technique involves use of local, natural dyes, especially the dried skins of yellow onions. In some cases, various leaves and flowers and wrapped around the eggs in a cloth so as to leave shapes, patterns, and other designs on the egg shell after it is boiled. And in yet other cases, the egg is boiled and dyed first, and an sharp-ended instrument of some kind is used to scratch out a design. Egg games are also played. Eggs are be smacked together in the hands of two opponents, or rolled down an incline at an opponent’s egg, and the owner of the egg that cracks first loses.
Easter dinner in Latvia can include a wide variety of dishes, but eggs are always on the table. There will also likely be “sun-shaped” breads and cakes, plenty of desserts, a good helping of dairy products, and some kind of a pork dish as the main course.
Should you visit Latvia for Easter, there will be many events and activities to take part in, including the following:
- See the “Easter fair” in Riga’s Old Town district. Here, you will find singing, dancing, concerts, craft demonstrations and workshops, and much more. While in the Old Town, be sure to see Old Town Square, Saint Peter’s Church, Dom Cathedral, Riga Castle and its two museums, Powder Tower, and Swedish Gate, among other attractions.
- Tour the Ethnographic Open Air Museum located just outside the Riga city limits and on the shores of Lake Juglas. At Easter time, there will be Easter swings, singing, dancing, and festive activities. All year round, you will find exhibitions of Latvia’s various ethnic groups, over 100 cultural buildings, and many thousands of interesting artifacts.
- Relax in the Latvian spring weather at Gauja National Park. About 30 miles east of Riga, Gauja is the largest park in Latvia and full of stunning terrain, diverse wildlife, and historic landmarks. Must-see features of the park include: Turaida Castle, a 100-foot tall defense tower, a history museum, the beautiful Gauja River Valley, and the view from Eagles’ Cliffs.
You will find that Latvians celebrate Easter in ways very unique from much of the world, and experiencing a Latvian Easter will create memories that will last a lifetime.