Winter arrived in the Northern Hemisphere today with a veil of white–fog–rather than a blanket of snow. It’s been so blah outside that the day reminds me of Thomas Hood’s poem, “November,” which I posted in an earlier blog.
I looked and looked for a poem to share with you, but found nothing that pleased me. Poets wrote about “bleak December,” breaking boughs, blowing winter winds. Not even Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” conveys what I have in mind.
For me, the Winter Solstice is a time to celebrate the return of light. We are approaching a time of new beginnings, a time to put behind us the mistakes, sorrows, and bad thoughts of the old year. I turned to my Latvian heritage to find what I was looking for.
In Latvia, this is a time for reflection. A time to look into yourself. It’s a calm, quiet time of year. A time to seek inner peace and to connect with nature. It’s the time of the rebirth of the Sun Goddess. A fire festival. A flaming wheel of straw is rolled down a snowy hill as a symbol of the sun’s journey.
For centuries Latvia has been an agrarian society. As in the other seasons, the fertility of the land and people was essential. Work for the season was over, so there was time for young people to meet, visit, and get acquainted. If a girl went to bed hungry, she was bound to dream of her future groom. Presumably, someone who would be able to ensure that she and their future children would always be fed.
In the olden days, evil spirits were presumed to roam the earth during the darkest time of the year. To scare the evil spirits people dress up in costumes portraying creatures such as cranes, foxes, the devil, etc. The mummers (budēļi)
roam from house to house, raising a ruckus, the more noise the better. In return, they expect to be served food and drink.
These are only a few of the many traditions and rituals with which our Latvian ancestors welcomed the return of the sun. Soon green growing things will also reawaken.
This is the spirit of revelry and celebration I was looking for. I can watch this video over and over. This is a fine way to welcome the sun and longer days. “Kaladu” is simply a nonsense word like “tra-la-la.
Latvians are a singing and dancing people even in snow at this cold, dark time of year. This video is worth sharing again and again.
The woman in the green shawl is wearing a necklace of “barankas.” They’re like a cross between bagels and pretzels. On a string like this is how “barankas” are sold in Latvia. When I visited my relatives there and told my uncle how fondly my mother used to reminisce about gnawing on “barankas” he brought me a string of them the very next day.
Those are sashes the dancers are leaping over. Normally they’re worn with folk costumes, wrapped two or three times around the waist (depending on the girth of the person) and tied in front.