The Latvian Winter Solstice

The Latvian Winter Solstice

A Very Pagan Christmas

On this Christmas Eve eve, I am pondering much about this wonderful world that we are all a part of. It is an amazing feat of imagination to stop and think for a moment about all the people you know, have ever met, and —even more incredibly– the ones you have yet to meet (and the billions you will never know). It is a big world, and there is much that we do not understand.

For Winter Solstice, we went to Old Town Riga to witness (and take part in) a pagan celebration, Ziemassvētki (which is also what we say when we mean “Merry Christmas” but it is literally translated as “winter festival”).

The tradition involves people dressed in masks gathered together in groups to drag Yule logs through the streets while carrying torches, singing songs, playing music, and dancing. I think the purpose was to cleanse the town of evil winter spirits and to have some fun on the shortest day of the year. I feel that we accomplished both of these objectives.

The Herd

The parade began at the statue of Roland in the main square near the Blackhead building and where there is a marker noting the very first decorated Christmas tree in the history of anywhere.

Yule Logs were lined up with ropes ready to be hauled through the streets. The idea is that you put all of your negative energy and bad things that have happened in the year, cast them on the log, and then burn it in the fire. A fresh start. A new beginning. I admit, I touched a few of the logs. I am certain they burned in spectacular fashion!

The marching started with some call and response singing, and we were off. There must have been a few hundred of us marching through the streets. My favorite group was the children dressed as sheep with the adult kind of herding them along.

The March Begins

Then there was the dude with the creepy old man mask and his own log.

And the drummer guy with the authentic skins. Pretty cool.

Although we weren’t wearing masks, no one seemed to care as we walked in the parade around Old Town. We made our way up and down the busy streets lined with holiday tourists and shoppers. We stopped at the Dome Square where the Christmas Village is and had a rousing dance.

Then we went back to the statue of Roland where we started to light the fire and sing more songs.

As I was marching in the parade and listening to the singing, I really felt this animal spirit in me. I let out a few wolf howls, and I was absolutely overjoyed to see the moon glowing behind the clouds that have shrouded our city for weeks.

That is the moon!

I wanted to wait until they burned the Yule logs, but everyone else was getting cold, so we decided to leave. I can only hope they burned brightly and all the darkness and evil of 2018 went with them!

I wanted more festivity! I craved for people to just start dancing and singing spontaneously. It was a bit reserved for a pagan festival, but hey, I think they did a nice job. The snake dance was fun!

Kaladū! Kaladū!

Upon reflection, I just love how free the spirit of this city is! Thank you for another memorable evening, Riga!

Side Note

I wrote this quickly because I feel it is timely and I hope there are not too many mistakes or falsifications. Please let me know if you find anything to complain about.

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