If you managed to travel to Latvia during a Song and Dance Celebration, which can have around 80 000 participants, or if you make it to the Latvian Open-air Museum on the first weekend in June, when thousands of Latvia's best craftsmen sell their wares at the annual crafts market, then you're guaranteed to leave with unforgettable and vibrant memories. These events aren't only good for watching from the sidelines – they're also great places to become actively involved and to get the full-on experience of Latvian celebrations, traditions and ancient crafts. Participation is possible at several folklore and dance festivals, city celebrations, thematic events held by the Latvian Ethnographical Open-air Museum and, of course, during traditional holidays such as Jāņi, Meteņi, Easter and Christmas. Interesting events are organised and held for each of these holidays around the country and include markets and demonstrations by craftsmen.
Every year on the second Saturday of July, the Sea Festival or the Fishing Festival takes place in the villages along the Latvian coast. Visitors can participate in fishermen's boot-toss competitions, go sailing out to sea and eat delicious fish, dance until the drop at parties and witness the god of the sea Neptune himself rise up out of the water. In turn, other cities hold annual city festivals and celebrations. These celebrations also have various activities that visitors are welcome to participate in.
Latvia also has several medieval festivals, such as the “WENDENE 1378” in Cēsis, which stands out for its interactive events, where visitors are able to participate in historical, medieval Livonian activities. Celebration participants can mail letters from medieval times, learn from Cēsis' most famous stonecutter how to cut a stone sphere fit for a catapult, learn the tasks of a medieval castle vešeriene and suit up in medieval armour. There are also, of course, various physical activities to take part in, such as medieval battles, archery competitions and war games.
Medieval battles can also be seen at the “Baltijas saule” (“Baltic Sun”) festival that takes place on Zaķusala in Riga. This festival has everything – from ethnic-rock music to reenactmentsof the Sun Battles and sword fights, to making and trying on ancient garb.
Many amazing experiences can be had in the historical atmosphere of the almost 1 000-year-old Zemgale Celebration. The Zemgale Celebration takes place each year on the second Saturday of August in Tērvete, where one of the mightiest castles in the Baltics towered up from the Tērvete Castle Mound 800 years ago. The celebration features concerts, lessons on historical dances and demonstrations of ancient crafts, battles and fights.
The Livs, a Finno-Ugric people, also have their share of celebrations. The Liv celebrations in Mazirbe are the best place to hear the almost extinct Liv language, see their colourful folk costumes and remember ancient Liv traditions. In turn, completely different songs and a completely different language can be heard in Latgalian celebrations on the other end of Latvia in Latgale.
The Song and Dance Celebration
The Great Song and Dance Celebration is a weeklong festival that takes place in Riga once every four years and that gathers thousands of amateur collectives, traditional craftsmen and folk ensembles from around Latvia. This celebration also includes a festival for minorities called “Latvijas vainags” (“The Wreath of Latvia”), which features traditions, folk costumes, song and dance from collectives representing various minority cultures living in Latvia – approximately 15 collectives representing various ethnic groups participate. The next Great Song and Dance Celebration will be in 2012, but 2010 saw the Youth Song and Dance Celebration, which had an equally diverse programme.
Latvia still honours its ancient traditions, which is why yearly celebrations are still widely celebrated. Easter, Līgo or Jāņi, Mārtiņi, Christmas, Meteņi… On these days, but especially in the Ethnographical Open-air Museum in Riga, special events are held dedicated to the respective holiday. The traditions of other cultures are also not forgotten. For example, the Jewish community in Latvia celebrates Chanukah and the traditional masked parades in winter come to a close in the first half of February at Meteņi or at a carnival, which the Russian community in Latvia celebrates as masļeņica and the Lithuanian community as užgavēna.
Of course, these aren't the only events and the only places to experience them. Every guest house and rural tourism village may invite you to participate (if you so wish) in creative activities. Those who are truly interested in the multicultural traditions and folklore of Latvia will definitely find something surprising and exciting to do.