Easter in Latvia: Springtime Holiday Traditions

Easter in Latvia is a celebration of springtime, the Christian belief in Christ’s Resurrection, and the continuation of pagan tradition in modern times. In Latvian Easter traditions, the celebration of the spring equinox and the Christian holiday combine.

Let’s discover how Latvians recognize Easter through language, rituals and beliefs, and generations-old practices.

Traditional Latvian Easter eggs with dye materials
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The Days of Latvian Easter

Easter in Latvia is celebrated over the course of several days, each of which has special importance beyond its religious aspects. In fact, Easter in Latvia has traditionally been a time for magic and superstitions!

Palm Sunday and Pussy Willows

Palm Sunday, or Pūpolsvētdiena, is the Sunday before Easter Sunday. In place of palms, Latvians use pussy willow branches.

Pussy willows are not only used in place of Easter palms. They’re also essential to the Baltic pagan practice of switching. In the Latvian tradition, the first person to wake up on Palm Sunday morning practiced switching those still asleep—good-naturedly, of course!

Switching with branches has long been associated with good health and fertility, and it isn’t only a Latvian Easter custom. During Easter in Estonia, people may also switch each other with pussy willow branches, more for fun these days rather than in belief that it will transmit any good qualities onto the “victim.”

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter, is called Zaļā Cetrutdiena, or Green Thursday.

Green Thursday is associated with tidiness, luck, and good health. For Latvians of the past, certain actions could predict or precipitate wealth, beauty, and organized living.

Large public Easter egg decorations in Dobele Latvia
Photo 120365685 / Easter © Jelena Maximova | Dreamstime.com

Good Friday

Latvians call Good Friday Lielā Piektdiena. Good Friday is a day off in Latvia. This day is associated with a significant number of superstitions.

For example, to be free of snakes the whole year, people should eat bacon before sunrise. They should also avoid hanging laundry out to dry. Furthermore, they can also see witches by climbing into the attic.  However, many, many more beliefs from Latvian folklore have been recorded for Good Friday—many involve magic, nature, and fortune-telling.

Easter Sunday and Easter Monday

Easter is called Lieldienas in Latvia. It encompasses both Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. In addition to Good Friday, Latvians also have Easter Monday off, which means they have a four-day weekend to enjoy the holiday properly.

Easter Sunday is often spent with family, who enjoy a meal together. In the Latvian Easter tradition, round foods, symbolizing the sun, are incorporated into the Easter Sunday dinner. For example, Latvian pantaga, made of eggs and spices, is one such round dish.

Round egg dish on a plate for Easter in Latvia
Photo 131147377 © Alexander Mychko | Dreamstime.com

Latvian Easter Eggs

What would Easter be without Easter eggs? In Latvia, the most traditional way to decorate Easter eggs is by using the skins of onions to impart a warm, dark hue onto the eggshells. The simplest technique produces a mottled, freeform design. However, using the impressions of leaves, flowers, and twine allows for more control over the design process.

Easter Egg Beliefs

Of course, as with the other elements of Easter, superstitions surround Easter eggs. For example:

  • Beware the person who eats an egg without salt—it indicates they are a liar.
  • Broken eggshells foretell arguments and disharmony, so handle eggs with care.
  • Eating an odd number of Easter eggs will only bring you bad luck.

Other beliefs include:

  • You should share your Easter eggs with others to ensure your chickens continue to produce eggs.
  • Eggs that are able to be peeled cleanly predict a good year’s linen harvest.

Egg Games

As in other countries’ Easter traditions, egg-cracking is a typical Latvian Easter game. Two people face off with their boiled eggs. They crack the eggs together. The person whose egg comes out without a scratch is ensured a long life.

Egg-rolling is also a game from past generations. In this game, eggs are rolled down a ramp or slope. The owner of the egg that gains the most momentum and travels the farthest is the winner.

Swinging

Though swinging is an ancient Easter tradition in Latvia, it hasn’t lost its ability to liven up the holiday with fun.

The swings in question are not single swings you’d sit on and pump your legs to go higher in the air. These swings are huge folk swings, built for standing upon, and typically can carry two or more people. Taking a ride on the swing during Easter ensured fertility and kept away mosquitos.

A large wooden Latvian swing
Photo 78743476 © Aagje De Jong | Dreamstime.com

Easter and Religion in Latvia

It’s important to note that of the Latvian population that associates itself with a particular religion, Lutheranism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy are the main religions of Latvia.

Lutherans and Catholics celebrate their Easter earlier than those who are a part of the Latvian Orthodox Church. the difference in dates is due to the different calendars that the churches follow.

Where to Celebrate Easter in Latvia

Large cities, such as Riga, will have a series of Easter-related events prepared, such as concerts. Cities throughout Latvia also often decorate their public spaces for Easter with egg ornaments hanging from trees or large, colorful egg sculptures on main squares and roads.

To experience a traditional Latvian Easter, head to the Latvian Ethnographic Open-Air Museum for demonstrations, games, and other events.

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