In Latvia, Easter is known as “Lieldienas,” a term meaning “Big Days” and originally the name of the ancient pagan spring equinox festival. When Latvia became a Christian country, old pagan equinox traditions and new Christian traditions mixed, to a degree, and were celebrated during Lieldienas. There are two public holidays provided for the Easter season, being Good Friday and Easter Monday.
|2019||19 Apr||Fri||Good Friday|
|22 Apr||Mon||Easter Monday|
|2020||10 Apr||Fri||Good Friday|
|13 Apr||Mon||Easter Monday|
Most of the old beliefs about Easter and the spring equinox have died, but a few of the practices remain nonetheless. For example, Latvians still often spend time on a tree swing, preferably on high-up terrain, on Easter Morning. Sometimes, they build the swings on or just before Easter as well, though this is less common now. Few worry, however, about burning the Easter swing on the following Sunday to ensure that evil witches can make no use of it.
Today, 80 percent of Latvia’s two million people are Christian, about a third being Lutheran, a quarter Roman Catholic, and a sixth Russian Orthodox. Special church services will be held on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. Some also observe Maundy Thursday, called “Green Thursday” in Latvia, and Easter Monday as part of the holiday season.
Traditionally, Easter eggs are very ornately decorated in Latvia. The traditional technique involves use of local, natural dyes, especially the dried skins of yellow onions. In some cases, various leaves and flowers are wrapped around the eggs in a cloth so as to leave shapes, patterns, and other designs on the egg shell after it is boiled. And in yet other cases, the egg is boiled and dyed first, and an sharp-ended instrument of some kind is used to scratch out a design. Egg games are also played. Eggs are be smacked together in the hands of two opponents, or rolled down an incline at an opponent’s egg, and the owner of the egg that cracks first loses.
Easter dinner in Latvia can include a wide variety of dishes, but eggs are always on the table. There will also likely be “sun-shaped” breads and cakes, plenty of desserts, a good helping of dairy products, and some kind of a pork dish as the main course.