Christmas in Latvia – Customs and Traditions

Christmas in Latvia is a unique period when the people enjoy in different festivities.

The people in Latvia are known to follow their Christmas traditions to the latter and the pre-Christian behaviors are more prevalent around the country. They lived their lives by seasons, moon, and sun cycles. The midsummer day was often celebrated around the country and this corresponded to the summer solstice as well. The winter solstice was also celebrated in the country.

The Christmas traditions and customs that you are going to find people celebrating in Latvia are very unique. The period that is celebrated around the country is winter solstice and it is the inverse of the summer solstice, which features longer nights and shorter days. 

Christmas customs and traditions in Latvia

Latvia is very unique because it has exceptional customs and traditions that you will only find in the Baltic states.

Some various beliefs and traditions date back centuries. Some of the Christmas customs and traditions Latvian people observe are:

  • Counting of stars will bring good harvest in the coming year
  • Carrying a black cat will bring good monetary fortune
  • Placing wool on beehives will increase honey production
  • Running around the house three times will boost the health of the occupants

The people in Latvia believed that the winter’s solstice brought bad luck and going to the sauna to wash the spirits was a common practice around the country. In addition, when they visited the sauna, they focused on their body and soul and it allowed the locals to wash away negative thoughts and purify their bodies.

Further reading: Christmas in Estonia

Christmas tree in Latvia

Here is an example of Christmas tree decorations in Latvia.

Estonia and Latvia usually compete on who was the first to come up with the Christmas tree. However, it is critical to note that Latvians value their Christmas tree. Latvian people usually go to the forest to get their own Christmas tree and this can come in the form of a spruce or fir.

The first mention of Christmas trees being common in the country dates back to the 16th century. In the capital, Riga, there is the marker where the first Christmas tree was embedded to commemorate the event. The local people have maintained the tradition and they usually erect a Christmas tree in the same spot each year. This is usually done during the Christmas period and it is a time when the locals begin their preparation.

Christmas Decorations in Latvia

Perhaps one of the most common traditions is that the Latvians like their Christmas decorations. They value their traditional and natural decorations. They value a live Christmas tree and the people who are in the cities can get their Christmas tree from the vendors around the city.

The Latvian people also like to purchase wreaths from evergreen branches and twigs around for Christmas decorations. Puzurs is a common Christmas decoration in Latvia and people value it on their Christmas trees.

There is Latvian folk art too that is incorporated during the decoration. They hung papers and other geometric shapes that allows them to turn as the air currents move. The people love the beautiful addition that makes their Christmas experience exceptional.

Santa Claus in Latvia

As in many other western countries, people in Latvia believe in Santa Claus.

It is important to understand that the Latvian people usually celebrate two Christmases because a large part of the population is pagan, while the others are Orthodox Christians.  According to their traditions, Santa Claus lives in Ziemupe, in the southern part of Kurzeme municipality and he will usually come on Christmas Eve. 

The Latvian Santa Claus is similar to other Santas. Santa will visit on Christmas Eve and he will usually leave presents on the Christmas tree. The children will often sing or recite poems before they can receive their presents. There is a common tradition in the country called Santa Claus charity run, which is often organized in the capital Riga and the funds raised are for a good cause.

Yule log in Latvia

One of the most fundamental traditions that is more common in Latvia is that they observe the Yule log traditions. Since the country is known to have a large number of pagan people, they celebrate the tradition from one region to another. The yule log usually links them to pagan traditions.

The yule log is a symbol of labor and burden and people drag it from one location to another around their yards. This is thought to ward off negativity and bad luck while promoting healthy thoughts and success in the coming year. Burning of the yule is also common, and it is known to promote fertility, banish evil and bring light to the times of darkness in the region.

Latvians conduct yule log burning celebrations around the country. People will wear masks and play folk songs as they burn the log and they believe this brings good luck and fortune to the people. It is believed to be a way of sending the old year away and bringing in the new year with new positive vibes. In addition to this, the yule fire is known to symbolize the sun and the local people believe that there will be adequate food and crop in the coming year as the planting season begins.

Mumming in Latvia

This is an iconic tradition that dates back centuries. The people will visit their neighbors while they cause merriment and sing along to the traditional songs in the region. Mumming is a tradition that is linked to ancient caroling in Latvia and people participate in this practice every year. 

The people will wear masks that resemble the animals in the forests such as wolves and bears. The masks are meant to frighten the winter away, and it is a common tradition around the country to participate in this activity. During the Yule night, people will appear in costumes as well. 

Further reading: Christmas in Lithuania

Christmas Eve in Latvia

One of the most important days in the Latvian calendar is Christmas Eve. This is a period when the people observe the tradition and people usually gather around and enjoy a large meal together. The menu of the dishes in the region usually includes the nine traditional dishes that are most common in the country.

The dishes are known for their production in multiples of three, and it is believed that it brought good tidings in the new year.  In the ancient pagan tradition in Latvia, the number 9 was believed to be a beginning of a new world since the winter solstice brought a new year. 

Some of the common dishes that you are going to find in the region include pierogi, sauerkraut, bacon, carp, and pork. There are various dishes that you can find in Latvia and some of these foods are made from potatoes, beets, carrots, and bread. The Latvian people accompany their dishes with kvass, buttermilk, and beer.

Christmas mass in Latvia

This is a common tradition where people visit the local churches and parishes. There are Protestant and other churches in the region and the most Latvians follow the Julian calendar. 

25th December in Latvia

Usually, people celebrate Christmas in the country during this period. This is more common for Protestants and travelers who are exploring Latvia. However, for the Orthodox Christians, they will celebrate on January 7th

Christmas trees are decorated in Latvia and in the capital there are some of the most unique decorations that you will only find in the Baltic states. There are Christmas markets as well and you can shop for souvenirs from the different parts of the country.

During the Christmas period, people will often consume a wide array of foods and drinks that are traditional and common in the Latvia. You will find seasonal foods as well and people celebrating the Christmas period in style.

Some of the common dishes that you will find in the region include gingerbread, cookies, traditional peas, and others.

January 6th in Latvia

Christmas Eve for many people in the country is usually on January 6th. This is as per the orthodox calendar, and here many people participate in the preparation of traditional dishes and put presents under the Christmas tree. It is a big night for many families around Latvia. You will find roasted meat and other delicacies that are well prepared to ensure that the people have a memorable Christmas experience.

The serving of the meals is usually done when the family members are sat at a table. It is a time for visiting parents and other family members and it is a tradition to eat as people enjoy games and other fun activities.

Handmade candles are lit everywhere and it is a perfect time for you to enjoy the views and the culture of the people in Latvia. On 7th January many people are ready to get back to work and, in most cases, the Christmas decorations are usually taken off.

Aurimas Bio

Hi there! I’m Aurimas, a man behind Go Look Explore. I’m passionate about hiking, exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations, and everything outdoors related. Let’s connect.