Partying Like a Latvian on Winter Solstice

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Before ringing in the New Year, we joined in on Latvia’s winter solstice celebrations at the Latvian Ethnographic Open-Air Museum, a short distance outside Riga. According to local websites, the event would be marked with singing and dancing Latvians wearing animal masks and culminate with the burning of a yule log. I knew this was not to be missed.

German crusaders didn’t introduce Christianity to Latvia until the 11th century and it wasn’t fully enforced until the 1200s. The Latvians, however, held onto many of their pagan beliefs and traditions, simply incorporating them into the new faith. So while everyone celebrated the birth of Christ, the Latvians also honored the Sun goddess, who was reborn every December 22. The night before, on the shortest day of the year, the Latvians gathered to make merry and honor the past.



It began to snow as soon as this group showed up. Coincidence?


In the spirit of rebirth, they would also shed the previous year’s misfortunes. This was done by dragging a yule log through the village, gathering everyone’s painful memories, hardships and failures along with it, and then setting it on fire. All that sorrow would go up in a puff of smoke!




I was surprised by the large turnout and level of crowd participation at the Latvian Ethnographic Open-Air Museum. Many people were dressed in folk costumes and animal hats, and even those not in costume seemed to know the songs and dances. It’s heartwarming to see this dedication to cultural traditions in our modern world.



The Museum is actually a collection of 118 historic buildings that have been relocated to an 87-hectare park on the shores of Lake Jugla. Visitors can enter the restored and furnished structures to get an idea of what life was like for ancient Latvian farmers and fishermen.

Riga Winter Solstice




The Museum also includes a market where visitors can buy traditional Latvian handicrafts.


Have you ever celebrated the Winter Solstice? What’s the most unusual custom in your neck of the woods?

27 thoughts on “Partying Like a Latvian on Winter Solstice

  1. Thanks for writing about this, Heather! Latvians have many awesome traditions, and it’s nice to have non-Latvians spreading the word. I often celebrate winter solstice with friends in suburban DC – we pull the logs around the house, burn them, and enjoy a big hearty meal. All accompanied by singing, of course!

    Not only do I love Brivdabas muzejs, but I’ve a personal connection as well – my maternal grandfather helped transport the church to the museum back in the 1930s!
    Daina recently posted…Looking Back at 2014, Ringing in 2015My Profile

    • Wow, Daina, that’s so interesting! I love learning about personal connections to places I’ve visited – it makes them even more special 🙂

    • Thanks, Jess! This event was super fun and made me fall in love with Latvia even more! I can’t wait to explore even more in 2015 🙂

  2. So, what I thought was a traditional ‘disco’ in was actually winter solstice celebration? Interesting. I had a long layover in Riga in December 2013, went to Old Town and stumbled upon people dressed in costumes and dancing. I was invited to dance along and I had a great time.

    So, the answer to your question is ‘yes, I have celebrated winter solstice even though I did not know what it was. :)” We do not celebrate either solstice in Zambia as there are no big fluctuations in weather.
    Zambian Lady recently posted…Riga, LatviaMy Profile

    • LOL, I love that you stumbled on this celebration! It’s those little moments that make travel so special. I actually didn’t know that there was a winter solstice party in Old Town so I’ll have to check that out next year. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Looks really interesting Heather! I don’t think I have ever celebrated winter solstice. Most unusual custom from where I’m from is Bottle Kicking. It takes place between two villages every Easter Monday and the best way to describe it is kind of like a massive rugby game using barrels of beer…
    Joella in Beijing recently posted…Christmas In The UK After 18 Months in Asia!My Profile

  4. Such an interesting event, Latvians celebrate in a very different and cool way compared to what I’m used to. I like the idea of visiting that museum with different kind of historical buildings and architecture styles, maybe I’ll make it there next winter solstice, who knows? 😉
    Franca recently posted…8 Responsible Alternatives to the Tiger TempleMy Profile

    • Oh Franca, I do hope you make it to Latvia one day. I think you’d enjoy the history and diverse architecture. And I’m sure there has to be a vegan restaurant or two… 🙂

  5. I’ve celebrated Ligo in the summer (and wrote about it) but not this. One more reason to return in the winter then! We don’t have anything like it where I’m from, since most of our “culture” is imported.
    Nicholas recently posted…6 Hours in TrierMy Profile

    • Me too! It’s already on the calendar of things to do this year. So. Much. Fun. I’m also excited about the upcoming summer solstice. Apparently it’s the biggest party of the year in Latvia!

  6. I loved my visits to Latvia. Saw a lot but so much more to see. Love your blogs. They are always so informative and your pictures are great.

  7. I’m hosting a winter solstice party tomorrow night, celebrating with my Latvian father and American friends! Really looking forward to it and I linked to your website on my Facebook invite, so thank you!

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