Thursday, December 19, 2013

Winter Solstice the Latvian Way

Latvian winters are cold and - most of all - dark. In Riga on December 21, the sun will rise at 9:00am, and set at 3:43pm, which calculates to a mere six hours and 43 minutes of daylight. Before Latvians were converted to Christianity, they celebrated winter solstice with songs, fire, food and various festivities. Because, really, if you are experiencing 17+hrs of darkness on a daily basis for several weeks, how else are you going to spend your time to ensure you don't go insane?!

I have been fortunate to celebrate the winter solstice Latvian-style a number of times. The Latvian folk music group, Sudrabavots, with which I sing began this tradition quite a few years ago. Due to my travels to the Midwest for Christmas, participating in these celebrations has not been possible every year, but the ones I have attended have been great fun.

The most distinct tradition is "bluku vilksana", or the pulling of the log. A heavy rope is tied around a large log, and everyone grabs onto to the rope, proceeding to pull the log around the house three times. This action pulls all of the bad and negative spirits, memories and energies out of the home and into the log. While pulling the log, everyone sings and makes noise to further scare off bad spirits.

Once the triple rotation around the abode is done, everyone gathers round the log and takes turn chopping it. While chopping, each individual deposits their bad experiences from the past year into the log. Afterward, the log, all the small pieces and even tiny wood chips that have been chopped off are burned to rid the world of last year's negativity.

During 'bluka vilksana' a couple of years ago. (Photo: A. Rutins)

Naturally, there are many folk songs to sing, and various other traditions that are celebrated during the winter solstice. We have always had delicious dinners via potluck - one person preparing a pot roast, another bringing sauerkraut, other contributing piparkukas, etc. It is a lovely, heart-warming way to celebrate the shortest day of the year, and I am grateful that I have friends with whom to do so.

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