Traditions and customs of Latvia

What traditions and customs are there in Latvia?

A look at the customs and traditions of Latvia, a Baltic country.


Food in daily life

The staples of the diet are rye, wheat, and potatoes. Dairy products are valued for their purity and healthful qualities. Milk, butter, sour cream, and cottage cheese were traditionally much appreciated additions to the diet. Pork meat is the most consumed. Smoked fish is particularly popular in Rīga and in coastal areas.

A wide variety of bread is available in markets and shops. During the Soviet period, the main meal of the day was eaten outside the home, in a canteen attached to the workplace or school.

Dinner was normally uncooked and consisted of bread and cheese or sausage and possibly salad. There has been a diversification of foods and eating habits, with pizza and Chinese food finding immediate acceptance.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Yeast breads are an essential ingredient of all family celebrations and religious festivities. Birthdays and named days call for klingeris, a saffron-scented bread made from yeast dough with nuts in a figure eight and decorated with flowers. Christmas and other religious and ceremonial occasions call for homemade bread packets filled with bacon and onions.

Beer and šnabs are drunk. A special cheese made from caraway seeds, jāņa siers, is made expressly for the Jāņi midsummer festival and drunk with specially brewed beer.


Restricted behavior, including low voices and avoiding eye contact, is expected in public places. Self-control, particularly with regard to anger, is highly valued. Until the identity of foreigners is established, Latvians try to avoid acknowledging the presence of others.

Relationships between same-sex friends and family members are characterized by a high degree of intimacy, bodily contact, and the use of affectionate diminutives.

Religious beliefs

The Christianization of Latvia occurred through contact with Germans and Russians. The Orthodox Church arrived before the 12th century, and the Catholic religion was brought by the knights of the Teutonic order. The Moravians who came to Rīga in 1729 and founded a seminary in Valmiera quickly attracted their followers.

This movement evoked ecstatic responses and took on a strong nationalist streak. The Baptists who arrived in the mid-nineteenth century also managed to arouse the interest of the indigenous population. The Lutheran and Catholic religions identified with the oppressive Baltic German presence.

Traces of earlier traditional beliefs have been assimilated into the local understanding of Christianity, influencing everyday attitudes and conversations. The continuing midsummer Jāņi celebration is a reminder of the power of earlier beliefs and practices and has come to symbolize national identity.

Religious activity was suppressed during the Soviet occupation period, and many ministers were imprisoned. However, funerals and memorial days for the dead were highly elaborate affairs and became an indirect vehicle for the expression of national sentiment.

The post-Soviet era has seen a revival of religious practice and the introduction of a large number of new religious movements.

Secular celebrations

The commemorations of the Molotov-Ribbentropl Law (August 23) and forced collectivization under Soviet rule (June 15 and March 25) are now days of national mourning.

Arts and Humanities

Arts support

During the independence period, the government generously supported the visual, literary, and performing arts. Founded exactly two years after the declaration of independence, the Cultural Foundation was created in 1920 to promote and financially support the arts; its self-proclaimed reason for being was closely linked to the development of national identity.

During the Soviet period, artists and writers were watched and their works were subject to heavy censorship. This was done largely through state sponsorship. Artists who were approved by the state received superior accommodation and their work was purchased by the state.

During the post-Soviet period, government support for the arts has been severely curtailed. Even the National Theatre, whose restoration has come to symbolize the resurgence of an independent cultural identity, has struggled to secure government funding.

Performing arts

The first singing festival took place in 1872 and featured the participation of local choirs from different parts of the country. These early festivals played an important role in the emergence of national identity and attracted large numbers of people. During the Soviet period the festivals were repressed or used as propaganda vehicles.

During the movement towards independence from the Soviet Union, popular songs once again became a powerful vehicle for social criticism and national sentiment.

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