Latvian Holidays: Viva Atšķirības

Latvian Holidays: Viva Atšķirības

The Holidays

Holiday season is upon us! So far, I have survived enjoyed a few Latvian and American holidays here in Riga. I have already written about Halloween, and this week we had a sort of Latvian/American overlap. Right now, a turkey is cooking in my tiny Latvian convection oven. I hope it is okay.

November 18th is arguably Latvia’s most important holiday, the celebration of independence in 1918 when Latvia was officially recognized as an independent nation. Prior to this, Latvia had been tossed around from Germany to Sweden and finally Russia until World War I and the Communist Revolution allowed it along with many other smaller countries to exhibit their sovereignty. Officially, it is called “Proclamation Day”. I had some nice discussions with my students about their celebration. This year, the actual date was on Saturday, so the official government holiday was on Monday the 20th of November. The week before Proclamation Day was Lāčplēsis Day which is kind of tied to the independence, so the whole week was filled with little celebrations including the 10th annual light festival!

My students said that they would spend the day with their families and have a nice formal meal with everyone. It sounded a lot like our Thanksgiving day celebration except for the fact that they would watch the fireworks later in the evening. Some of them attended the military parade in the morning.

Happy 99th Birthday

Other festivities that we took part in were a concert filled with delightful traditional Latvian songs thanks to cousin Gita. Then we walked through the center of Riga and observed the torch march where thousands of people held flaming torches listening to heavy-metal folk music before marching through the streets. We caught up with the marchers as they entered Old Town on their way to the liberty monument.

We also saw the cutting of the cake. For their 99th birthday, Riga baked a giant cake and displayed it under a tent at the park. Thousands of people stood in line for a large piece of free sheet cake. It looked wonderful, but I couldn’t justify standing in line that long for a piece of cake.


We also watched the fireworks. Our location gave us easy access to the river promenade.  A short walk gave us a nice view of the bridge. I was a little surprised at how low the fireworks shot into the air, but the variety of colors and shapes was very nice. I still put the Estes Park fireworks display as the best I have ever seen, but this one was terrific. I look forward to New Year’s!

I had Monday off of school, which was refreshing. We all went to a movie, and then wandered the streets of Riga.

Then, in my mind and heart, it was Thanksgiving week. So I have been dealing with this idea of not being with my Grinvalds’ family for this traditional family holiday. I think the last time this happened was when I was in Stapleton, and my car broke, so I spent the day in my sad little duplex by myself. Trish and Kyle had already gone home without me since she had extra time off. Bummer.

So here I was, working on the holiday and discussing it with my students. I had them share something they were thankful for, and that was very special. Then, I showed a video of Black Friday door busters to my Latvian students. I swear, this has to be one of the worst displays of Americanism in the world. When is it every worth demeaning yourself for some kind of monetary gain? Especially when it is for products you probably do not really need and will not really improve anything? It just makes absolutely no sense to me. Does anyone need a television that badly?

Then our discussion digressed to how shops are closed in the United States on Thanksgiving and other holidays. I quickly learned that Latvian stores do not close for any holidays, not even Christmas. They said that some shops may close a little early, but that is about it. They found it completely foreign and strange that any store would close on any day. And when I told them that when I was young, everything was closed on Sundays, that was a shocker.

Christmas is Coming!

This is one of those cultural moments where I suddenly realized that everything I thought was true and universal is completely arbitrary and local. Who knew?

Probably a lot of you, but that is a topic for a later discussion.

For now, my mind is turning to the 7.5 kilogram turkey in the oven, the potatoes that will not peel themselves, and the stuffing recipe that my sister Susan so graciously shared with me. It is Saturday, but since no one gets Thanksgiving off here, this is the perfect day for our celebration. As long as everyone’s health holds out, my cousin Ansis and his family members, Monta, Darta, Laura, and Norah should be here for a big supper soon! I had to track down a turkey through my British connection, and everything is ready to go! Wish me luck!

Happy Holidays to Everyone! I am sure I will have more to say come Christmas!

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A Better View of the Fireworks:

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