Latvia – the Singing Nation
The culture in Latvia has a strong influence by Latvian folklore and by the people of the country and how attached they are to their homeland. Latvians have the rich heritage of traditional folklore, especially folk songs. It is unusual to find a Latvian who has not sung in a choir or some other group at some point in his life.
Latvia is renowned worldwide for its choral singing traditions. When the country regained its independence, the events that took place were denoted “the Singing Revolution”. Latvia’s cultural heritage and self-awareness has been defined and documented for many centuries by its folksongs, which have been collected in numbers of several million. Latvian folksongs have expressed the peoples’ life cycles, their relationships with nature, feasts and rituals, and elements of everyday life.
The Latvian Nationwide Song and Dance Celebration is a grass-roots movement that literally pervades all of Latvian society, engaging huge numbers of people from all walks of life, from the largest cities to the smallest rural villages. Its uniqueness is recognized to be a national treasure by UNESCO. The Latvian Nationwide Song and Dance Celebration is an event that is held once every five years, but at the same time, it is a process that is continuous. The last festival took place in July 2013, and it brought more than 40 000 singers, instrumental musicians, and dancers to the capital city, and audiences, both live and via radio and television, spanned the entire nation.
Folk songs are one of Latvia's national treasures. The Latvian folk song – daina – is one of the distinguishing features of Latvian culture. There are three essential elements of these folk songs: tradition, literature and symbolism. The daina is a form of oral art and is a symbol that has both shaped and epitomized Latvia’s national identity for the last two centuries.
Dating back well over a thousand years, more than 1,2 million texts and 30,000 melodies have been identified. Explore more at Latvia Travel
Literature, Art and Theatre
Latvian traditions still play a central role in the Latvian identity today. This unique Latvian culture is woven through its literature, music, theatre and the visual arts. Yet, the legacy of foreign rule has also given Latvia a second, European culture. As a distinctive Latvian identity emerged during the National Awakening in the 19th century, so did an appreciation for the achievements of other cultures. Latvians embraced all the classical arts – literature, painting, theatre, symphonic music, architecture, opera, ballet and film.
The largest figure in Latvian literature is Janis Rainis. Where Germans have Goethe, where the Spanish have Cervantes, Latvians have Rainis who Latvians say would be compared to the greatest authors of the world had he not written in a lesser known language. At the turn of the century the Latvian poet Rainis, and painters Janis Rozentāls and Vilhelms Purvītis had established international reputations. In the 1920’s and 1930’s Latvia’s ‘Rīga group’ of painters became known internationally.
Latvians love theatre. They go to the theatre, they discuss it, actors are admired and theatre directors become opinion makers. With Alvis Hermanis alone, one of the leading theatre directors in Europe right now, Latvia’s name would have gone down in the history of theatre, but there is certainly much more on offer.
Find out more at Culture: the Key to Latvia
All over Latvia you can visit various museums that will help you understand better the culture of Latvia. These museums are small and cozy but typically showcase art and history in a modern, accessible manner. Visit Riga on the Night of the Museums in May to see many museums for free. Museums you can visit include the Museum of Decorative Arts, the Bourse Foreign Arts Museum, the Porcelain Museum, the Museum of the Occupation and many more. Read more
Latvia is a real paradise for gourmands – here you can enjoy a traditional meal as well as modern cuisine. Latvian food is popular in Latvia and, also, as Latvia is on the crossroads between East and West, and North and South, you can observe the influence of many different national cuisines and enjoy the result – borrowing the best from each. Meat, fish, potatoes and dairy products are the most popular components of main dish meals. Salads are more often composed of vegetables than of greens, and sour cream or mayonnaise is the preferred dressing.
Many people in Latvia grow their own food, thus, it can be said that ecological food is widely available. Every person living in the countryside grows food for himself and city dwellers can purchase the farm-grown food in so-called green markets.
|Latvians are still very fond of their traditional brown rye bread. 100% sourdough rye bread is the traditional staple of Latvia, and it is central to Latvian culinary and cultural history.|
|Grey Peas with Bacon perhaps is the most traditional Latvian hot dish. It can be served as a snack with beer, or as a main course.|
|Beetroot Soup - a burgundy colour soup smells really nice when steaming in a bowl. Especially in the cold time of the year, this soup is like an elixir of renewal. The soup usually is served with sour cream and a few pieces of black or white bread. Traditional Latvian Beetroot Soup is without meat or mushroom. However, today it’s often flavoured with these ingredients.|
|Bread Soup is one of the famous desserts in Latvian traditional kitchen. The soup is made of brown tasty bread, flavoured with raisins and other dried fruits.|
|Janis Cheese is the best-known cheese in Latvia. It’s the tradition to have Janis Cheese during Midsummer festival, but you are always welcome to have some or to make some any time you want.|
|Slightly bitter scent reminding of summer even in mid-winter, golden brown colour and unmistakeable taste - Riga Black Balsam is Latvia's most characteristic alcoholic drink. This strong and sweetish drink opens up a wonderful world of sensuality. Black Balsam consists of 24 ingredients though its recipe is still kept secret. According to legend, Empress Catherine the Great of Russia was cured after drinking Riga Black Balsam. In 2010, Riga Black Balsam was declared the best brand in Latvia. Try the drink to better understand Latvia!|
|Hemp-seed butter usually is made of sweet-cream butter and hemp seeds that are crushed and added to the butter. The colour of hemp seeds makes the butter creamy green and adds a special bitter-fresh and slightly hazy flavour.|
|Pearl barley and potato porridge served with sauce of fried pork and onions. Pearl barley and sliced potatoes are boiled in water, milk is added when they are ready, giving the porridge mild taste.|
|Debesmanna, a cranberry mousse made from cranberry juice, farina (cream of wheat), and sugar. From so few ingredients comes a delightfully airy dessert that is so easy to whip up and is satisfyingly tangy.|