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Ask a Latvian: What's a Graveyard Holiday?

Latvijas Saeima

Graveyards are a big deal in Latvia. They are usually located in pine tree forests and are filled with beautiful sculptures and gravestones, especially if it's a tomb of a famous writer or an artist.

People take pride in how beautiful graveyards are there – and often take traditions around them very seriously. There is even a common term – 'kapu kultūra' – which means graveyard culture.

For instance, one is supposed to bring only an even number of flowers to a graveyard, let's say two or four roses or tulips. One should never try to bring two roses or any other flowers to a birthday. That would be a serious offense. One always brings an uneven number of flowers to any other place besides a graveyard.

At the center of Latvian graveyard culture is the Graveyard Holiday or 'Kapusvētki' in Latvian. It's such a distinct tradition that recently one of the theatres in Latvia put on a play about it.

So, how do you celebrate our Graveyard Holiday? Of course, you go to the graveyard where your relatives are. For many people, it often means driving to the village their family comes from. In many cases, the Graveyard Holiday is the only time during the year when they can meet all their distant relatives. People eat and drink, right at their dead relatives' tombs. There's also usually a priest from a local church and maybe even a small band playing.

For many, this is a time and place to see and be seen. Those who live in the city want to show how well off they are. And those who live in the countryside also want to look their best. New shoes, fresh haircuts and clean shirts are prepared for the occasion. Often, in the evening there's dancing and other festivities in the village near the graveyard.

It's important to note that 'Kapusvētki' doesn't have a particular date. It happens all through the summer. So, sometimes people spend several weekends driving around the country to have a drink and piece of pie at their relatives' tombs.

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Crosscurrents Latvia