Easter time comes with a list of traditions that are or were observed in Latvia. They are a mix of Latvian pagan and Christian traditions. I’ll try to focus mostly on the ethnic Latvian traditions. Yet, you’ll still notice me mentioning the influence of Christianity because it’s strong. German Catholics brought Christianity to Latvia in the 12th and 13th centuries. Thus, it’s even in Latvian folklore.

 

How is Palm Sunday called in Latvia?

 
Pussy-Willow twigs
For Latvians, it’s Willow Catkin Sunday

The first important day on the Easter time calendar is what we call Palm Sunday in English. Yet, in Latvian, we call it Pūpolsvētdiena which means Willow Catkin Sunday or Pussy-Willow Sunday. That is because there are no palms in Latvia, but there are willows which bloom around Easter time.

On this day, a parent of the family would mildly spank all family members with pussy willow twigs. The meaning of this activity is to enhance the family’s health and energy. The tradition has developed and now anyone can spank the other family members. You just need to be the one who wakes up the earliest and finds willow twigs with catkins on them.
While spanking, you should chant this:
“Apaļš kā pūpols, vesels kā rutks. Lunkans kā žagars, sarkans kā ābols. Drošs kā lauva, veikls kā vāvere. Slimība ārā, veselība iekšā.”
 

It means:

A Latvian doing yoga on a beach
Get spanked with a willow twig to be this flexible.
“Round as a catkin, healthy as a radish. Flexible as a twig, red as an apple. Brave as a lion, quick as a squirrel. Illness goes out, health comes in.”
 
There is an interesting tip for you if you want to take the role of the spanker. While spanking, avoid hitting legs. Why? Ancient Latvians believed that by hitting legs you would cause them to become fat.
 
Even if you don’t want to be the spanker, you should try getting up before the sunrise on Pussy-Willow morning. Why? Latvians believed that otherwise, you’ll low energy till the following Pussy-Willow Sunday. You’ll hibernate all year round like a bear in winter.
 

How is Maundy Thursday called in Latvia?

 
The Thursday of the week following Palm Sunday is Maundy Thursday. Yet, in Latvian, we call it Zaļā Cetrutdiena which means Green Thursday. This comes from the German influence in Latvia. Germans mark Gründonnerstag which also means Green Thursday.
 
As we know, Maundy Thursday is the day which commemorates Christ’s Last Supper. That’s when parishioners received a green branch to signify completion of Lent.
Green peas mean money
Eat green peas on Green Thursday

Ancient Latvian calendar relied on equinox/solstice times. Easter time is around the time of Spring Equinox. So, in Latvia, ancient pagan traditions mingle with Christian traditions. Hence there is the reference to the color of green which is also the color of spring.

 
Disregarding strong influence of German traditions in Latvia, Latvians mark Green Thursday differently. Germans prepare green color dishes on this day. Yet Latvians avoid picking anything that grows and bringing it inside the house. I do not know why that is, but that’s what my mother always reminded me about.
 
Latvian beliefs for Green Thursday
Cuckoos determine if you’ll have money

Latvians also try being well organized and tidy on Green Thursday. The belief is that if you manage to do so, it will be easy for you to maintain good order and tidiness all year round.

 

Also, eat green peas on Green Thursday. Then, if you’ll hear a cuckoo in summer, you’ll get rich soon after. Funny how the green color is associated with money in Latvia and in the USA where we’d think of green dollars.

Dance to have strong legs
Dance on a rock at sunrise
 

But you want to be not only rich but good looking too, don’t you? Well, Latvians believed this could help if you do it on the morning of Green Thursday:

If you want to have strong and beautiful legs, get up before sunset and go outside to dance on a rock.
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Good Friday and Latvian beliefs related to it.

 
In Latvia, we don’t call it Good Friday, we call it Lielā Piektdiena, which means Great Friday. For ancient Latvians, the Good Friday was the Day of the Magic. That’s why next I’ll tell you about some of the beliefs ancient Latvians had related to this day:
Ancient Latvian belief
Who is the witch?
  • The person born on Good Friday definitely has the ability to see ghosts.
  • Anyone can see witches on Good Friday if they climb up to the attic of their house and look through a sieve.
  • You can recognize witches among churchgoers if you look at them through a hole of a coffin board.
  • You shouldn’t wander around on Good Friday. That’s what only envious and evil people who practice black magic do.
  • Don’t visit others on Good Friday if you don’t want witches to show up at their home.
  • On Good Friday, you can prepare to protect your house from lightning. Take a loaf of bread and put it on the bottom of a chest of drawers. When thunder strikes, start eating this bread. That will make lightning go by without hitting your home.

    Cruel Latvian Easter belief
    Frogs can help you get all you want.
  • To get all you want and be protected, on Good Friday you need to catch two mating frogs and throw them on an ant hill. Then walk away. You’ll hear singing and violins playing and later dogs howling, but don’t look back. Return to the ant hill only on the following day. You should be able to find a small hook in it. That hook will enable you to attract everything you want. You should also be able to also find a small crutch in it. That crutch will enable you to keep away everything you want to keep away from you.
 

How is Holy Saturday called in Latvian?

 

The Cross
Quiet Saturday should be quiet.

In Latvia, we don’t call it Holy Saturday or Black Saturday. We call it Klusā Sestdiena which means Quiet Saturday. Many Latvians would avoid hosting loud events and celebrations because they may feel disrespectful to others. That’s because it is the time when people remember the sufferings of Jesus Christ.

 

The Two Easter Days

 
The Latvian for Easter is Lieldienas which is a noun in plural, and it means the Great Days. The translation of Easter Sunday thus is Pirmās Lieldienas which means the First Easter. In Latvia, the Monday following the Easter Day is also a state holiday. We call it Otrās Lieldienas which means the Second Easter.
 

The following are some of the ancient Latvian Easter / Spring equinox traditions

Easter plunge
Be the first to jump in.

 

If you want to have lots of energy and happiness all year round, you should wake up early on the Easter morning. Bathing in a stream running towards the sun will also help you to ensure a clear mind and physical beauty. Try to be the first one to jump in a spring on the Easter morning. Thus you will have more energy than others and will be the healthiest.

 About the Eggs

Eggs colored using natural colorants
Latvian style Easter Eggs

 An egg symbolizes the sun. It also symbolizes fertility and the beginning of a new life.

Egg coloring tradition is popular with Latvians too like it is with other nations. Many Latvians still use natural colorants such as onion skins, woolen threads, dry birch leaves, alder tree buds, and chamomile tea to color eggs

 
The old belief goes that it is important to be aware of the number of eggs you eat. You should always try to eat an even number of eggs in order to avoid bad luck or great sorrow.
 
Also, watch who eats eggs without salt because that person will lie a lot until the next Easter.
 
People who don’t handle egg-shells with care can expect lots of arguments in their family. So, don’t drop the shells on the ground and don’t step on them.
 

Easter egg fights are still popular in Latvia.

Colored egg shells
Egg fights are popular

In an egg fight, the intention is to break the shell of the opponent’s egg. The belief is that the one who has the strongest egg will live the longest life.

On the First Easter Day, use the tip the egg when fighting. On the Second Easter Day, you can use an egg broken a day before because you’ll have to use the egg’s end (not the tip) to fight.
 
There is also a tradition of exchanging Easter eggs. Do it mindfully because the intent is to enhance mutual kindness and likability. So, don’t try to exchange the egg that you don’t like for a better one. That won’t help to fulfill the intent.
 

Swinging on an Easter swing is one of the most popular Easter traditions in Latvia.

A young girl on a swing
Swinging on Easter is popular in Latvia

Latvians believe that you should swing as much as you can on Easter. Swinging will protect you from mosquitoes as well as snake bites during summer.

 
As regards the swings, they had to be made new for Easter and destroyed, and burned no later than a week after. That was to prevent witches from swinging on them. They also believed that crows will steal chickens if you leave Easter swings up after Easter.
 
Young men were usually responsible for building and destroying the Easter swings. They also swung women in the swings. Women thanked them by giving them colored Easter eggs or a pair of mittens they had knitted.

To Summarize:

  • Palm Sunday is Willow Catkin Sunday in Latvia. The Latvian for it is Pūpolsvētdiena. Latvians spank each other with pussy-willow twigs.
  • Maundy Thursday is Green Thursday in Latvia. Latvians call it Zaļā Ceturtdiena. You should not pick any green and growing plant on this day. Try to be extra organized.
  • Good Friday is called Great Friday in Latvia, and Holy Saturday is called Quiet Saturday. In Latvian that is Lielā Piektdiena and Klusā Sestdiena. Be quiet on these days.
  • Easter is plural in Latvian. It is called Lieldienas. The first day is called Pirmās Lieldienas, and the second day is called Otrās Lieldienas. Egg fights and swinging are two popular Easter traditions.

 

Click the link to read about Latvian traditions for Fall Equinox.


ilzebe
ilzebe

Ilze Be is a Latvian born American public speaker and entrepreneur. She speaks about culture, race, and money. Her firs 20+ career years were spent in the translation industry. After moving to the US, she created digital courses for learners of Latvian.

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