Latvian Easter Traditions
First and foremost it is of concern to any Christian that Easter symbolizes the fact that three days after Jesus had been nailed to the cross He arose once more on Easter morning. Easter is ushered in by a week of contemplation which begins with Palm Sunday, then Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and finally Easter Sunday. In the Latvian tradition there is also Easter Monday and it is so hard in this modern world to accept the fact that this week before Easter should be a quiet week.
Latvians have a treasury of folk songs called ”Dainas” and one can find many different folk songs about Easter. It’s not surprising that in days gone by there is no mention of coloring eggs because most Latvians color eggs by boiling them in onion skins and tying different materials around the eggs before boiling which will make patterns on them. However there are folk songs which mention eggs of gold, silver and white. If Latvians stick to known traditions what they do is they take a piece of cloth and say in one cloth they put some birch tree leaves then tie this to the egg and it will leave a pattern in the dark brown color which they get from the onion skins and you could use a fir branch which will give some green, some flower petals or even tie up the egg with colorful wool string. There is a belief that in ancient times magicians would color Easter eggs and then put them under a horse’s or other animal’s trough to do harm to the animals or put a spell on them. It was a well known fact that people believed this in the old days and were very afraid of there kind of magic eggs. It was also thought that there was something mystic about the water in which the eggs were boiled and it was thought that this water could do things like keep hawks away from baby chicks which had been born in the spring. Another thing that concerned country folks was that if they saw that the eggshell peeled well and easy then there would be a good linen harvest and if the eggs peeled badly the linen would not grow well.
Some other beliefs were:
If someone stole someone else’s Easter eggs they would have nothing but be just as plain as an egg.
If someone ate an Easter egg without salt they would tell lies all summer long.
At Easter you had to exchange your Easter eggs with someone else’s Easter eggs or your hens wouldn’t lay anymore eggs and chicks wouldn’t hatch.
If a young girl gave a boy 2 eggs it meant she didn’t like him, if three eggs she thought he was not desirable, four eggs meant she didn’t like him but since he was rich she would belong to him and five eggs meant I have wanted you for a long time and now I want to be with you for always.
Something which was looked upon as being honorable at Easter was finding a place to hang a swing and hanging the swing. Usually the tree chosen was an oak or willow and it was usually somewhere upon a hill between say two oaks. It was traditional to hang large swings upon which two or more people could swing and sing traditional Latvian folk songs. This tradition of swinging came with the tradition that on Easter morning as the sun rose on the horizon you had to swing your body first one way three times and then towards the other side three times and so before you began swinging you had to walk around the swing three times first singing songs and then young boys would throw eggs over the branch the swing was attached to and only then could you begin to swing. Young boys who would swing young girls were given Easter eggs and sometimes even hand-knitted gloves or socks. It was also common to keep swinging one week after Easter and then the swing had to be burned so that witches couldn’t swing on it. A tried and true tradition in any Latvian household even these days is fighting or banging with the Easter eggs. Each person takes an Easter egg in their hand and thinks of a wish. Then they hit the tops of the eggs against each other. The person whose egg doesn’t crack will get his or her wish first. There were also egg rolling contests.
Another ancient belief was that at Easter you had to shoo away birds from your garden because birds symbolized bad luck and illness and with shooing the birds away you also got rid of all the bad luck and illness. In other places in the country it was traditional for young boys to walk about all of their neighbor’s houses looking for Easter eggs but the main idea was to get a look at the neighbor’s daughters.
Some other traditions at Easter:
On Easter morning you had to get up very early, put on a completely new shirt and spank those who were still asleep so that it would be sure that all of the rest of the year everything that you took up would go well.
It was believed the water in all of the rivers which flowed in the opposite direction in which the sun went throughout the day was holy. Therefore on Easter morning in such a river you had to wash your mouth so no one could say anything bad to you. You could take the water in a container and it would stay good all the rest of the year and you could use it like holy water.
At Easter you had to swing a lot so that you wouldn’t be a sleepy head the rest of the year.
In the country on barn doors you had to take chalk and draw crosses so that evil spirits couldn’t enter.
Your Easter Table
The first thing you must do at Easter is eat eggs as eggs symbolize life and health and if you eat a lot of them you will also stay healthy. Other foods which you put on your table should have the round form of the sun. Therefore salads are placed in round bowls and little cakes are made round and so on. Foods should be in all sorts of different colors and that’s why at the Easter table you will see a lot of green, red, orange and yellow. Among all the sweet threats like special Easter cookies and cakes were also oven baked potatoes, roasts especially pork roast and ribs and different types of salads and vegetables because at Easter it is traditional to fill up tables with all sorts of good things to eat.