It was the Latvians from olden days that created many of the Latvian Easter traditions that are still followed today. It is important today for parents and grandparents to pass on these traditions.
Latvians look upon Easter as the first official holiday which celebrates the arrival of spring. Today they celebrate Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. In the early days, Easter was celebrated for three whole days and in a year when February had 29 days, they even celebrated four days. Easter was looked upon as a person either a large woman or four sisters. As best as I could I have translated a traditional verse from this time.
Four sisters are Easter,
Four brothers Christmas;
For an eight-day celebration
We brew honey sweet beer.
The week before Easter is considered to be a quiet week of reflection. For the Latvians, there is Zala Ceturtdiena or Green Thursday and Liela Piektdiena or Big Friday. Of course, for everyone else in the Christian world, these are referred to as Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
Early on Easter morning, it is traditional to wake with the sun and head on out to a stream, if you are in the country to wash in water that flows against the sun. This is a kind of ritual which helps a person become alert, have a clear head, better health, and beauty.
Another important tradition is boiling eggs in onion skins and tying about them green branches or leaves to make decorations. Today eggs are also colored in different colorful ways. Another verse about this is:
Come, sisters, let’s make
That we will give our brothers
On Easter morn.
All of these verses are part of traditional Latvian folk songs known as Dainas.
The egg is considered to be a symbol of the sun, which from ancient times has been looked upon as a fertility symbol. Once everyone gathers around the table on Easter friends and family have egg fights. The idea is to take an egg and hold it so the other person hits the top of the egg. The one who has a whole egg with no cracked shell after the fight is the winner and will live a long life.
Other kinds of beliefs:
The eggs must be eaten with salt otherwise in the summer you’ll be telling lots of lies.
While boiling the eggs you cannot blow on the flames beneath the egg pot and it is not advisable to laugh and talk during this time.
If the eggs peel from the shell easily it means that flax in the fields will grow well.
Easter eggs are also brought to cemeteries because they symbolize rebirth and by taking them to the cemetery it means the person who has passed on will be reborn twice.
Everywhere it’s possible Latvians hang wooden swings. According to tradition if a person swings a lot on Easter then in the summer mosquitoes won’t bite them.
On Easter only boiled eggs either boiled in onion skins or colored differently can be placed on the table.
You should place peas on the Easter table as they will bring wealth.
Often people gather around on Easter and do a lot of swinging and some of the swings that are hung are large enough to accommodate two people and dancing goes along with tradition as well.
Brothers hang the swings
High up on a hill
So that when your sister swings
She can see everyone gathered below
Traditionally the first ones to swing upon the swing were host and hostess of the house where everyone gathered. People would swing for all three Easter days and sometimes even a whole week afterward. Of course today there are only two Easter days of celebration but I do believe there are still people who keep up this tradition. After Easter is over the swings must be taken down and I believe they burn them so next year they put up new ones. This is because according to tradition if the swings are left up then birds won’t be able to lay eggs and if they do lay eggs, crows will take their chicks. Another belief was that the swings must be burned so that witches cannot come to swing upon them.
The food that was placed on the Easter table had to be of good quality and include milk. A great many of the Easter dishes had to include foods which were round to symbolize the sun such as the eggs and peas.