Updated on February 16, 2021
A Dive Far Up North to the Latvian Culture
Located in northeastern Europe with a population of over 1.9 million people, Latvia has vibrant traditions and a long history dating back to early 9000 BC. It’s an extraordinary land that encompasses a mosaic of magnificent woodlands, marshes, lakes, rivers, and other habitats. When comparing to all European cultures that are present in this project, it’s safe to say that there are some distinct qualities that make Latvia really stand out. You can see it, for example, in pagan origins, work ethics or manners when men open doors for women or insist on carrying all the heavy bags. Yes, chivalry is alive and well in Latvia!
To be honest, for us, Latvian culture was like quantum mechanics – we had heard of it but knew nothing about it, so having our amazing Latvian friends, Arina and Kristiāns, here was an extraordinary opportunity to discover it. Little by little, throughout December, we got familiar with Latvian culture by trying some delicious foods, exploring their cinematography, history, language, popular games, and music. These experiences really helped us to broaden our perspective of this mesmerizing Baltic country.
Latvia is such a small country, almost five times smaller than Italy, yet so full of beauty and rich in history, filled with hope and glory. They have a deeply rooted culture and a very strong identity, that they had defended on so many occasions throughout centuries. It has always been under the domination of larger nations, for example, Germany or Soviet Russia. After Latvians became free of the Soviet rule, their cultural heritage was reignited once again.
Before the Latvian culture month even started, we already had a glimpse of the language whenever Arina and Kristiāns were talking together – so many new and beautiful sounds and a lot of logic behind them. During the first cultural evening, we were trying to read the alphabet and speak the language ourselves, but we must admit that for many of us it was quite a challenge. We got a chance to discover a small part of Russian culture too, since a large percentage of the Latvian population is of Russian origin, as it is the case with Arina. Seeing and comparing both Latvian and Russian alphabets, we noticed how different they are. There are way less, if hardly any, similarities than we expected.
Our friends offered us a virtual trip to Latvia through a series of videos and storytelling. We got to know cities and towns, such as Jūrmala and Alūksne, where they grew up in and, also, Riga – the capital – which is crossed by the Daugava river that meets the Baltic Sea. The clean and calm environment fantastically contrasts with the bright and vibrant colours of the buildings. We would be lying if we said that we didn’t feel the desire to experience the beauty with our own eyes.
During the Latvian culture month, we had the opportunity to try many treats. Cold, warm, crunchy, or soft – Latvian cuisine has a lot to offer. Potatoes were included in almost every meal. We really liked the delicious Olivier salad which for some of us even brought back some dear childhood memories. However, the uncontested superstar was the snack ķiplokgrauziņi – fried garlic breadsticks from heaven. Honestly, one of the most savoury and aromatic garlic bread we have ever tasted.
Latvians are still very much pagans at heart. They worship nature by celebrating the summer solstice which arguably is the most important national holiday. It’s a pagan tradition when Latvians celebrate the shortest night by staying up to greet the rising sun, weaving wreaths out of grasses and flowers, burning bonfires and jumping over them. Not only that, they still preserve a form of ancestor worship in celebrating Remembrance of the dead. That said, one thing that some of us found to be the most interesting one was the Ancient Latvian signs. There are so many different symbols and they all have geometrical and abstract forms which represent ancient deities and unique meanings. Kristiāns prepared a mesmerizing surprise by giving each of us a hand-painted wooden piece with an ancient Latvian sign on it so that they could be carried around as protective and empowering amulets. Thank you so much, Kris, for looking after our wellbeing!
Some of us had heard that people from the north are cold, but we would like to disagree with that statement. It’s quite the opposite – they are probably the most caring people in the group. Once you get to know Latvian, the friendship will be very deep and personal. When either Kris or Arina are in charge, every detail counts and they always pay attention to each and one of us.
Liels paldies Arina and Kristiāns for being so generous and sharing this month with us!
Our lovely Latvian hosts Arina and Kristiāns: “Looking back to the start of the Latvian cultural month, we remember how confused we both were. We didn’t really know how to present our country in the best possible way. Not because there is little to show but quite the opposite – there are so many beautiful traditions, interesting facts, and tasty foods to share. Soon after starting the preparations, everything fell into place and both of us got extremely excited to show our fellow volunteers how proud we are to be Latvians.
Italian culture is so different from Latvian, it’s like night and day. However, one thing that unites both is the love of food and cooking. We had to choose the recipes carefully because Italy does not have many products that we usually utilise in our cuisine. Many meals that were served, we prepared for the first time in our lives and they turned out fantastic. We can proudly say that we gave our all and succeeded and overcame all the challenges and presented our culture as best as we could!
The best gift for us was to see how our fellow volunteers and mentors enjoyed the food with a warm smile on their faces. We are beyond proud of our friends because they were so dedicated and gave their all in every cultural evening. We really do appreciate their effort in speaking Latvian because we know it is not easy.
We are grateful and blessed to have each other because we really proved to ourselves that we are a real dream-team. After this experience, it definitely feels like we can do anything together!”