Latvian culture, along with Lithuanian, is among the oldest surviving Indo-European cultures. Much of its symbolism (an example is the pērkonkrusts or thunder cross) is ancient. Its seasons, festivals, and numerous deities reflect the essential agrarian nature of Latvian tribal life. These seasons and festivals are still noted, if not also celebrated today—for example, Jāņi is a national holiday.
The legacy of Latvian mythology is also seen in contemporary Christian holidays. Christmas is called Ziemassvētki. Not only is Easter called Lieldienas, but the pussy willow has supplanted the palm frond in Christian symbolism. Palm Sunday is Pūpolsvētdiena, literally, Pussy Willow Sunday, and little children are awoken that morning by the ritualistic swats of a willow branch and the exclamation, "Apaļš kā pūpols, apaļš kā pūpols, apaļš kā pūpols!" ("Round like (the catkins of) a pussy willow!") Also used "Apaļš kā pūpols, vesels kā pūpols!" - " Round like Pussy willow, healthy like Pussy Willow!" That way giving a blessing of good health for the year coming until Next Pussy Willow Sunday!
In AD 98, Tacitus, a Roman, mentioned the worship of a goddess-mother in the Baltic region (see Aesti). Reports of Christianization give unbalanced information. We do know that some tribes had had their religious beliefs declining for some time, and accepted Christianity willingly. Others, such as the Curonians and Semigallians, resisted Christianization. Later texts by authors who presumably knew nothing of Latvian beliefs, substituted supposedly authoritative work substituting Prussian deities, adding extremely unlikely explanations and etymologies.
Latvian folklore was recorded mostly after the 19th century, therefore it sometimes can be quite Christianized. Still, the traditions are layered rather than merged. These records sometimes also contain the opinions of the mythographers, giving their ideas about how the folklore might have been transformed over time.
Latvian folk songs, named Dainas by Krišjānis Barons, presumably could be the best sources due to the need to keep rhythm, and therefore are learned word by word, thus even in one song the first verse can speak of the same subject in singular while others refer to the subject in plural, indicating that there has been innovation.
Most tales contain folklorised reality – information of ancient events or archaeological sites, and mythological tales concerning good and evil. Despite that, they give slight outline to ancient mythology – it is quite clear that "devil" is used to describe anything pagan, thus describing ancient cult places, and in a few cases they give a better idea about the original beliefs than the folk songs do; i.e. the folk songs do not directly point to Mēness adultery as the tales do.
Folk beliefs and proverbs
Latvian beliefs and proverbs give insight into everyday rituals and folk medicine.
Seasons and festivals
Historically, Latvians recognized eight seasons to the year. The end of one season and the beginning of the next was marked by a festival.
Other minor historical holidays:
List of deities and other terms
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