Martin Day: The End of Veļu Laiks

Saying goodbye to autumn and welcoming winter.

Martin’s symbol of fire and light. Both are important during the coldest and darkest time of year.

Martin Day was on November 10th but I’ve recently learned that all of November is Martin Month. Who is Martin? He is one of the sons of Dievs the Latvian nature deity who has become associated with the Christian god who goes by the same name. Dieva (possessive case) other sons are Jānis, whose day is the Summer Solstice, and Ūsiņš, the god of spring and blossoming.

It is a tradition to sacrifice a rooster to Mārtinš to thank him for a good harvest and in hopes of a good harvest the following year.

Mārtiņi is the Latvian word for Martin Day. It’s the day when the Veļi, the spirits of the dead, return to their home beyond the sun. It marks the end of shepherding and the completion of harvesting. It is the beginning of ladus laiks, the time of ice. And it’s a cross-quarter day, the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.

We seldom get ice like this in my state

One of the customs to celebrate Martin’s Day is a masked procession. The masked participants are known as budeļi. Mumming, another name for masking goes on all winter to Meteņi, when spring is welcomed.

One of my friends is currently in Latvia where he took part in Martin Day festivities at the Ethnographic Open Air Museum in Rīga. Adults, as well as children, wear masks. In the old days in Latvia, budeļi went from farmstead to farmstead, singing and dancing. The householders welcomed them with refreshments.

My friend kindly gave me permission to use his photos and didn’t even ask for photo credits.

Budeļi at the Ethnographic Open Air Museum
Music is everywhere.
I’m sad that I never got to see anything like this when I was in Latvia. I was there at the height of summer and I got to see a Song Festival.
Latvians dance everywhere, all the time.
Budeļi come in all sizes.

Mārtiņi is one of many fire festivals in Latvian, and world pagan traditions. Fire represents the threshold to another dimension, The center of the bonfire is a direct link to Dievs. The fire rituals are complex and deserve their own post.

Mārtinš is also a popular name for men. My maternal grandfather was named Mārtinš.

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