Let there be light

Only after quite a few years of living up here in the top part of the Northern hemisphere have certain things crystallized for me - it's taken me a few years to realise the magic of this time of the year. It's all pagan and patriotic and mysterious. It's a time when nature takes a deep breath - after the furious flowering and fruiting of summer and autumn have ended. The world gets very dark - it's not yet dawn when you get up in the morning and twilight already in the afternoon. And misty. Latvians call it "veļu laiks" (the "time of ghosts/spirits") - a time which coincides with the "death" of nature - when traditionally on a certain night people would put out a feast for the ancestors. This also coincides with the christian All Saint's Day (yeah, trust the church to usurp a pagan celebration, wouldn't be the first time, hmmm!).
After 7 years of living in Latvia with these extreme seasons, I have come to love this time of mist and darkness. As we descend into the next few months of winter, things indoors get cosy. The heating at home comes on, woolly jumpers come out, cups of tea abound, and lighting become an important feature - in many shapes and forms - sparkly christmas decorations appear in shop windows, fairy lights in the trees in the park, candles everywhere day and night: at kindergarten, on shop counters, at home when eating breakfast.
Around mid-november there are also three celebrations which fall within the space of a week, and it is always a busy and special week when you get very little work done. The first celebration is "Mārtiņi" - the day which marks the end of all the autumn work and the start of winter. It's the beginning of the time of "mummers" (see last year's post abou Ķekatas - the Latvian version of Halloween), a tradition of masks and merriment related to the sun and awaiting its return. Then there's "Lāčplēsu day" - which is equivalent to Anzac day in Australia, marking the day when the Latvian army drove the Bermont-Avalov forces from Rīga in 1919. On Lāčplēšu day there are concerts and army parades, and in the evening everyone goes to the Rīga castle and lights candles - lots and lots and lots, they appear over the castle walls with hundreds of people coming to put down their own candle there or at the Freedom monument. Then on 18 November there is Latvian independence day - which this year will be a biggie, because it's Latvia's 90th birthday. It's a public holiday with concerts and solemn parades and flags and flowers and a really beautiful patriotic and celebratory feel. We are in the middle of this special week right now, and tonight while sweeping up in the kitchen I realised for the first time that I love this week every year, and I love "veļu laiks". I've been particularly enjoying it this year because the boys are big enough to understand bits of what is going on, and we are busy learning the Latvian anthem and lighting candles and going to concerts and making costumes. Life is rich and full and bright, despite the approaching winter, and the darkness all around.

2 Responses so far.

  1. Marite says:

    Good on ya, for finding the good. I'm glad you can enjoy this time of year. I have fond memories of thinking also of the candles, the teas, the wine, the knitting, the cuddling in blankets. It's just they are overridden by the memories of sun-deprivation, the cold rainy, slushy sidewalks, the grim faces, the ...oh well, I don't have to rain on your parade (maybe I already did-sorry). Like I said, I'm really glad you can find the good- and make it last year after year.

    What I really want to know- did you make a decision on the suit?

  2. This is my third November here but I only just heard about the Lacplesu dienas celebrations (three times this week, but after the fact). After seeing your photos, I can't wait to take part in it next year. I'm also starting to appreciate this time of year more (mega doses of Vitamin D are helping this year, good thing my dad had researched that one in the States for me), but I'm only in year three so I'm glad to see by year seven there is hope. :) It's amazing how living hear really makes all the Latvian traditions, celebrations and stories we heard as children make so much more sense... :)

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