Latvia Culture 101

A town square filled with people in Riga, Latvia

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

If you are planning a trip to Latvia, it's a good idea to learn a bit about the culture and traditions before your visit. Here's a look at the local customs.

01 of 08

Flag of Latvia

Flag Of Latvia Against Clear Sky
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While the Latvian flag was officially reinstated in 1990, the Latvian flag actually has a history that dates to the 13th century - making it one of the world's oldest flags. The flag's symbolism originates in a Latvian legend about the death of a Latvian chief. When the chief died in battle, he was wrapped in a white sheet, and each end of the sheet was stained with blood. This sheet, flown in battle, oversaw the Latvian tribe's next victory.

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02 of 08

Latvian National Costume - Folk Dress

Latvia Folk Dress
Liga Eglite/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Latvia's traditional costume has been worn at festive occasions for centuries - sometimes passed down from generation to generation. Latvian women's clothing, shown here, consists of a skirt, blouse or tunic, head scarf or other head covering, and can also include a shawl and a sash. Latvians typically wear their folk costumes during festivals or for folk performances.

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03 of 08

Latvian Traditional Musical Instrument - Kokle

Latvian Kokle
Unuaiga/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

The Latvian kokle is a stringed instrument that is played while resting on the knees or on a table. One hand plays the tune, and the other hand muffles certain strings. The kokle can have varying numbers of strings, and its specific shape is determined by the particular design of Latvia's regions.

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04 of 08

Wedding Customs - Latvian Traditional Marriage

Low Section Of People With Hands
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Stepping through traditional wedding ribbons in Latvia symbolizes the future for Latvia brides and grooms. In another Latvian wedding custom, groomsmen "kidnap" the bride, and the groom must complete a simple task to "ransom" her back.

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05 of 08

Writing Sins on Stones - Latvian Wedding Tradition

High Angle View Of Text On Pebbles And Stones In Bowl
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Writing sins on rocks, then tossing the rocks into a body of water, will allow a person to atone for their sins. This ritual is sometimes performed before weddings. The practice of transposing a sin onto an object to be discarded is similar to Eastern European folk remedies, which sometimes require transferring an illness onto an object and destroying it or throwing it away - thus destroying the illness.

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06 of 08

Latvian Souvenirs - Wooden Spoons

Variety of wooden spoons
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Latvian carved wooden spoons make great, easily-packed souvenirs. Wooden cutlery and dishes were used in Latvia prior to modern silverware and dishware. Wooden spoons are also still used for cooking Latvian traditional foods.

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07 of 08

Latvian Monument to Freedom - Latvian Statue of Liberty

Latvia Freedom Monument
Glasgowfoodie/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

The Latvian Liberty Statue - known locally as "Milda" - has stood in Riga since 1935. The monument to freedom is still graced with flowers. It represents anti-Soviet resistance and Latvia's independence between the wars and Latvia's struggle for freedom from the USSR towards the end of the 20th century.

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08 of 08

Latvian Christmas Tree

View Of Entrance To Christmas Market in Latvia
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Some legends say that Riga is the site where the tradition of the Christmas tree began. A plaque even marks the spot where the first Christmas tree supposedly stood in front of Riga's House of Blackheads. Whether or not this legend is true, the Christmas tree is a part of an old Latvian tradition that involves the decoration of a fir tree during Christmas time.

Other Latvian Christmas traditions include decorating with traditional ornaments, sometimes made of straw, cooking traditional dishes, and singing Christmas carols.

Riga also celebrates Christmas with the Riga Christmas Market.

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