Latvia – A European Christmas Story

Latvia claims to be the home of the first Christmas Tree. The first documented use of an evergreen tree at Christmas and New Year celebrations is in town square of Riga, the capital of Latvia, in the year 1510. Lots of people think the Christmas Tree first came from Germany, but the first recorded one is in Latvia.

Christmas Markets in Latvia attract many tourists and people loved to shop gifts for their loved ones from here. The streets of the market are beautifully decorated; you will also get to taste some of the finest samples of good food at the Riga Christmas Market.

Christmas in some areas of Latvia is celebrated traditionally, whereas some areas know how to balance tradition and craze at the same time.  The people of Latvia do lots of preparations to welcome the festival of Christmas. They decorate their houses with evergreen Christmas trees and use various glittery small items and hang them on the trees.

Children in Latvia believe that Santa Claus (also known as Ziemassvētku vecītis – brings their presents. The present are usually put under the Christmas tree. The presents are opened on during the Evening of Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day.

Often the presents are secretly put under the tree, when people are not around. Sometimes to get a present- you have to recite a short poem, while standing next to the Christmas Tree. Before Christmas, children learn to say poems by heart. You might also get a present by singing, playing a musical instrument or doing a dance.

A personal story:

By Inta Gulbe

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

The special Latvian Christmas Day meal is cooked brown or grey peas with bacon (pork) sauce, small pies, cabbage & sausage, bacon rolls and gingerbread.

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

Christmas has always been a very important holiday for my family, which we all welcomed together. And needed a good reason not to participate.  We lived in Riga, but when we had the opportunity, we drove to wait for Christmas at my cousin’s country house surrounded by forest with three beautiful Christmas trees in the middle of the yard, which were decorated … and Santa Claus always came out of the forest with a gift bag on a sled. 

The children’s excitement was unique, and we adults did not remain indifferent either.  Christmas was unimaginable without the smell of gingerbread at home, the dinner table had to have various pies, pork roast with oven-baked sauerkraut and various other delicacies.  If there was an opportunity and there was no deep snow, then in the evening we went to church.  Of course, everyone likes gifts, especially children, but my best gift was the opportunity to be with my loved ones. 

At Christmas, all the cities were decorated and there are markets.  Latvians are great knitters and can buy very beautiful and original gifts. 

I have lived in Huddersfield for 7 years, I really like it here, but my family is divided, and we have not been able to get everyone together again … it is sad!

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

Children in Latvia believe that Santa Claus (also known as Ziemassvētku vecītis – brings their presents. The present are usually put under the Christmas tree. The presents are opened on during the Evening of Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day.

Often the presents are secretly put under the tree when people are not around. Sometimes to get a present you have to recite a short poem while standing next to the Christmas Tree. Before Christmas children learn to say poems by heart. You might also get a present by singing, playing a musical instrument or doing a dance.

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