Winter illuminates Riga in many lights. Thirst for sun makes us lighting lamps and candles, lack of warmth tempts for hot infusions and mulled wine, crisping snow reminds of invigorating walks and winter sports…
After a sequence of unusually mild and snowless winters, snowflakes and frosts are frequenting Riga again. Lights of the moon and lanterns reflect in white cover, and a diverse cultural agenda in the months to come reconciles with inevitability of the dark season.
Late November light festival “Riga Shines” for several years now brings a wide array of light installations and peculiar transformations to the city. Municipal, commercial and private artworks are set on display all across Riga. From little interactive exhibits to large projections on buildings and huge beams going through the sky, the programme grows increasingly vast year by year, culminating in fireworks on the evening of the 18th November, the Independence Proclamation Day.
Traditional Christmas markets are held at the Dome and Live Square in December. Here you can find a great deal of hand crafted presents (knitted, potted, wattled, baked carpentered, embroidered, brewed…), taste local food and drinks (grey peas and sauerkraut, piparkūkas (pepper cookies), almonds roasted in wine and spices, Glühwein and hot blackcurrant juice with Riga Black Balsam are on the favourites list), listen to folk music, take part in various festivities.
Such as, for example, the celebration of winter solstice, called ziemas Saulgrieži in Latvian. Roots of this tradition go back to pagan times, when change of the solar year had a great meaning – both magic and practical. Re-birth of the Sun, so much awaited in the northern latitudes, entailed a whole set of rituals performed to help the light dispel the darkness.
Nowadays Riga still has preserved this tradition. On the evening of 21 December ķekatas – people costumed as beasts – drag the yule log across the Old Town, collecting all bad and evil that has accumulated here throughout the year. Then they set the log afire, getting rid of all negative, celebrating the return of the Sun with songs and dances around the bonfire…
And then come all major feasts – Christmas and New Year, and then again Christmas and Old New Year – in the Orthodox tradition. Families and friends rejoin around the festive tables, lights burn bright and so do our hopes for a good and prosperous coming year. Be happy and make others happy, too!