It seems that I’ve stirred up a bit of a squabble with yesterday’s post in which I called Christmas Eve in Latvia “Cake Evening.” I made the mistake of posting the link to a social media Latvian food group.
“I never heard of that!” exclaimed a couple of people.
If you’ve never heard of the star, Aldebaran, which is 65 million light-years from the sun, does that mean Aldebaran doesn’t exist?
For a small country, Latvian has many regions and many different dialects, and very different names for the same thing. The Latgalian dialect, spoken in Latgale, is quite different from standard Latvian if there is such a thing.
Please bear with me, I’m going to include a little history to show that Latvia and the Latvian language are more diverse than would seem at first glance.
The Baltic people have lived on the shores of the Baltic Sea for more than four thousand years. Does anyone know what their ancient traditions regarding the Winter Solistic during their entire four thousand-year history? Okay, so they probably didn’t have cake for the first couple of thousand years or so. But we don’t know for sure that they didn’t. Cakes have taken many different forms over the centuries.
Before Latvia united as one country it was made up of tribes of Couronians (Kurzemnieki) Latgalians (Latgalieši) Zemgalieši (Semgallians) Sēļi, and many smaller tribes each with their own language and traditions.
To add to the confusion, over the centuries, Latvia has been occupied by Swedes, Russians, Poles, and Germans. Many words from those languages have entered the Latvian language. One of my mother’s uncles was married to a Russian. My mom scattered many Russian words into her speech. Half the time I didn’t know if a word she used was Latvian or Russian. French and German words also snuck in.
As an example of the differences even in modern Latvian is the word for “kitchen.” Many Latvians know it as virtuve. But my mother grew up calling the room, “ķēķis.” Two very different words for the same thing. Both words are Latvian but from different regions. There are many such examples.
So, when I researched my “cake” post, did I miss seeing the little diacritical mark under the “K” in “ķūķu” for “kūku” i.e. cake? Possibly. But round cakes, symbolizing the sun, are a part of the special, magical foods served on Christmas Eve, which is a celebration of light. Some would call it The Light of the World, a term that means different things to different people.
“Cake Evening” is more catchy than “Nine Foods Evening” and more fitting for a celebration of the sun, a holiday observed in winter for thousands of years by many different cultures.