Commemoration Day of Defenders of the Barricades in 1991
After a pro-independence government was established in Latvia in May 1990, the Soviet government in Moscow increased pressure to block Latvia’s peaceful mass movement toward freedom. In January 1991 the Soviet Union mobilized its security forces in an attempt to remove Latvia’s elected leaders. In response, people from all over Latvia brought trucks, tractors, and heavy equipment to Rīga to build barricades around the government buildings and parliament. The face-off culminated on January 20th when Soviet special forces initiated a gun battle and temporarily seized the Ministry of the Interior. Although several people were killed, the barricades held and pro-democracy forces prevailed to restore full independence in August 1991.
International (De Iure) Recognition of the Republic of Latvia
Although Latvia declared its independence in 1918, it wasn’t until 1921 that the Entente countries, the victors in the First World War, recognised the independent Republic of Latvia. Thus, on January 26th, the leading world powers granted Latvia full recognition as an equal subject of international law.
International Women's Day
In Latvia, as elsewhere in the world, this day is a celebration of women. Female friends, family members and colleagues usually are given flowers and other gifts.
Commemoration Day of Victims of Communist Terror
On this day in 1949 (see also June 14), the Soviet occupation regime deported over 43 000 people from Latvia to Siberia. They were mainly prosperous peasants, intellectuals and others that Moscow viewed as hostile to communism and Soviet rule in Latvia. In the coming years the homes and farms of these deported Latvians were taken over by Soviet citizens brought in from other Soviet republics and collectivized.
March - April
(In Accordance With the Western Church Calendar) Easter
In Latvia, the Easter holiday consists of three special days: Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. In addition to the practices of the Christian Church, many Latvians observe older pre-Christian traditions as well, welcoming the rebirth of nature and the arrival of spring. People colour Easter eggs, take part in traditional swinging and other activities.
Convocation of the Constituent Assembly of the Republic of Latvia, Labour Day
Many in the world celebrate this as Labour Day, so does Latvia. But here May 1 has an additional meaning. On this date in 1920 the Constitutional Assembly, the first democratically elected Parliament of the Republic of Latvia, convened for its first session to draft and pass the state constitution.
Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia
On May 4, 1990 pro-independence members of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia (the highest legislative body in then occupied Latvia) passed a Declaration on the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia. This vote launched a transitional period until full independence was restored in August 1991. This date is now observed as Latvia’s “second independence day”.
The 2nd Sunday
May Mothers' Day
Prior to the Second World War in Latvia, this day was devoted to a celebration of the family and its values. Since 1992 Latvia has joined others in the world recognising this as Mother’s Day. Since the mother is the central figure of traditional Latvian families, the essence of this holiday has not changed. Children visit and give flowers and other gifts to their mothers, grandmothers and aunts.
A Sunday in May or June
(In Accordance With the Western Church Calendar) Whitsunday
While Whitsunday is generally associated with Christian religious practices, in Latvia it also includes earlier pre-Christian Latvian traditions. Among Christians, it commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Twelve apostles and other followers of Jesus. Meanwhile the pagan meaning for the holiday symbolises the beginning of summer.
The Defeat of Nazism and Commemoration Day of Victims of World War II
The Second World War brought great destruction to Latvia and enormous suffering to the Latvian people. Both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union violated international law by forcibly mobilising Latvian citizens into their armed forces. About 200 000 Latvian soldiers were compelled to serve in the military forces of both occupying states, and approximately half of them (100 000) died while hoping to restore Latvia’s independence.
One of Latvia’s greatest achievements since the restoration of the independence in 1991, was to become a member of the European Union in 2004. Since then Latvia has joined other EU countries in marking this day in honour of the unification of Europe.
International Day of the Family
Latvians observe this day by organizing special events for families and children. To encourage family outings, many museums and recreational facilities offer discounts and free admission, as well as special family-oriented events.
International Children's Day
In Latvia, the 1st of June coincides with the beginning of the summer holiday for schoolchildren. As a result many special events are organized especially for children – concerts, exhibitions, competitions, sporting events. Safety related educational events are also organized for children of all ages.
Commemoration Day of Victims of Communist Terror
June 14 is referred to as ‘The Day of Terror’, for on this day in 1941 the Soviet occupation regime deported over 15 000 people from Latvia to Siberia. Entire families, including women, children and the elderly, were seized without warning in their apartments and loaded onto trains bound for Siberia. Many died en route, or in the concentration camps located throughout the Gulag Archipelago.
Occupation of the Republic of Latvia
In accordance with a secret protocol of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) of August 23, 1939, Latvia was relegated to the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence by Nazi Germany. Latvia was subsequently occupied by Soviet armed forces on June 17, 1940. Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Latvia in 1941 and remained until Soviet forces returned in 1945. This last Soviet occupation of Latvia lasted until 1991.
Heroes' Commemoration Day (Anniversary of the Battle of Cēsis)
This day marks the battle near the town of Cēsis in June 1919 when Latvians, together with Estonian forces, won a decisive victory against the Germans. This victory is traditionally viewed as a major turning point in Latvia’s struggle to realize its independence and push the Germans out of the Baltic countries.
Līgo Day and Jāņi
The celebration of the summer solstice is Latvia’s oldest and most beloved holiday. While some like to begin this holiday on June 21st, (the longest day of the year), the Latvian Līgo-Day takes place on June 23rd and continues with Jāņi on the following day - June 24th. Most Latvians leave the cities to gather around ceremonial bonfires in the countryside to engage in a colourful array of ancient rituals. To celebrate the arrival of the summer sun, they gather wild flowers, make oak leaf wreaths and decorate houses, animals and themselves. They also prepare special foods and brew barley beer, while singing and dancing traditional folk songs with the 'līgo' refrain.
Commemoration Day of Genocide Against the Jews
On July 4, 1941, just days after the arrival of Nazi German troops in Latvia, Rīga's main Jewish synagogue was set on fire, burning alive those who were trapped inside. It is estimated that over 70,000 of Latvia’s Jews were killed by the Nazis. For Latvians this is a day of remembrance for all the Jews that were killed by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.
The 2nd Weekend of July
Sea Festival Day
Latvia has a 531 kilometre coastline and thus has always been a country with long seafaring traditions. Among them are the colourful Fishermen and Sea Festivals in coastal towns. Smoked fish and other sea foods are plentiful, and are enhanced by fairs where local crafts and artwork are sold. The festivities usually conclude with entertainment and dancing late into the evening under the night sky.
Commemoration Day of the Latvian Freedom Fighters
This day of remembrance for Latvian freedom fighters is associated with the signing of a peace treaty between Latvia and Soviet Russia on August 11, 1920. The treaty ended the Latvian War of Liberation, which had begun in late 1918.
Passing of the Constitutional Law on the Status of the Republic of Latvia as a State and Actual Restoration of the Republic of Latvia
On August 21 the Supreme Council (Parliament) of the Republic of Latvia declared that the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia, as passed on February 15, 1922, was restored in full. With this, the transitional period to independence which was announced on May 4, 1990, came to a successful conclusion.
Knowledge Day (First Day of School)
In Latvia, September 1 is the first day of school in all educational institutions. In most schools it is a day of festivities, speeches and special events. Parents often accompany younger schoolchildren who wear their best clothes and bring flowers to honour their teachers and school directors. By evening it’s easy to identify Latvia’s schoolteachers - they are loaded down with flowers.
Second Sunday of September
Although this tradition in Latvia is relatively new, Father’s day is celebrated to honour the investment of both parents in raising a child.
Baltic Unity Day
On this date in 1236, the Baltic peoples - the ancient Latvians and Lithuanians - defeated the German Crusaders known as the Order of the Sword. The order had been created to establish military and political control of the Baltic and convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity.
The 1st Sunday of October
In addition to being honoured on September 1, teacher’s also have a special day in October. A variety of activities take place: schoolchildren take the role of teachers, the best teachers are honoured and special performances are given by children. Each school has its own traditions on this day, making for a colourful and varied event throughout Latvia.
Latvian Freedom Fighters' Remembrance Day - Lāčplēsis Day
On this date in 1919, the Latvian Army won a decisive battle against Russian and German forces led by Pavel Bermont-Avalov. This victory successfully ended the Latvian War of Liberation (1918-1920) and enabled the people of Latvia to realize their dream of an independent state. The day is named in honour of Latvia’s legendary warrior-hero, Lāčplēsis (The Bearslayer).
Proclamation of the Republic of Latvia
The Republic of Latvia was proclaimed an independent state on this day in 1918 in the building that today houses the National Theatre in Rīga. Latvia’s first period of independence lasted until June 17, 1940, when Soviet forces occupied the country. The independence of the Republic of Latvia was restored on August 21, 1991. Many festive events take place through the country on this day, including a nationally televised address to the people by the President of the Republic of Latvia. In recent years this speech is given before large crowds in the square by the Freedom Monument in Rīga.
The Last Sunday before the Advent
All Souls' Day (An Unofficial Day of Remembrance).
On this day and on the previous eve - "Candles Eve" - Latvians visit cemeteries to remember their deceased loved-ones, bringing flowers and lighting candles at the gravesites. A widespread tradition on All Souls' Day is a visit to the Rīga Military Cemetery. Candles are lit to honour the soldiers who fell in the fight for Latvia's freedom.
The First Sunday of December
Commemoration Day of Victims of Genocide Against the Latvian People By the Totalitarian Communist Regime.
After World War II about 200 000 Latvians lived in Soviet Russia (later the USSR). Some were part of a peasant and intellectual emigration in the late 19th century, while others were refugees from the fighting in World War I. In 1937-1938 the communist regime in Moscow began a mass extermination campaign against non-Russians living in the USSR, including Latvians. About 70 000 Latvians living in the Soviet Union were killed. The Latvian Parliament has declared the first Sunday of December as a day of remembrance for the Latvians killed by the Stalinist repressions in the USSR.
Christmas is another important family celebration for Latvians. Many Latvians attend church services, decorate Christmas trees and exchange gifts on Christmas Eve - December 24. Celebrations continue on Christmas Day and the day after. For many Latvians this time of the year is also associated with pre-Christian traditions and rituals reflected in ancient folk songs and observed in a variety of colourful ways.
New Year's Day
Festivities to celebrate the New Year begin in the evening of December 31. Both the President and Prime Minister address the people on national TV. While champagne toasts are common, many Latvian families partake in a variety of traditional rituals to ensure good luck and prosperity in the New Year. (official day off) JANUARY 1
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