Autumn Festivals In Latvia and Lithuania

Niina Pekantytär

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Abjumidas​

The autumn time holidays are pretty similar in the Baltic countries such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In the Latvia festival, Abjumidas began the autumn season. Abjumidas was celebrated to honour the god Jumis. He was the pagan god of harvest and fertility ​and he was celebrated during autumn equinox between the 22nd and 24th of September.

Mikeli

​The first of October was Mikeli. The day of St Michael and is similar to the Finnish Mikonpäivä. The day was named after both the Catholic Saint and the archangel Michael. It is very likely that the original Mikeli was a nature spirit. In Latvian folk belief, St Michael was the receiver of souls. Before the arrival of Christianity in Latvia, that was the job of the god Jumis. In both Finland and in Latvia Mikeli was the gate to winter ​and all the farm work had to be finished by Mikeli.

Velu Laiks

In Latvia, people believed in dividing time. A period in autumn when all the spirits of the dead wondered on the earth. Velu Laiks means the time of the dead and it was followed by Ledus Likes. Time of the ice. After Ledus Likes it was safe to walk on ice.

Martini

Then there was the day of St Martin which in Latvia was known as Martini. Martini also known as Martindiera was celebrated on November 10th. In Finland day is known as Martinpäivä and in Estonia as Mardipäev. Martini was named after the Catholic Saint Martin of Tours and also sometimes after Martin Luther. The founder of Lutheranism. The day of St Martin is celebrated all over Europe but the holiday itself is way older and the name of it is based on the French word morti and Latin mori meaning death. In Pre-Christian Latvia, Martini was celebrated to honour the horse god Martinš. He was a dual god. In the springtime, he would turn into god Ūsiņš.

During the night of Martini, young ladies threw their skirts into the floor before going to bed and in the dream, their future spouse would pick it up. There have been many kinds of rituals to celebrate this special day. One that I found was a protection ritual for the horses where a rooster was sacrificed. On the eve of Martini horse’s mouth was touched with a rooster and then the rooster was lifted towards the sun. Blood of the rooster was dropped into the horse oats. Latvians worshipped the sun goddess Saule so the rooster was a sacrificial gift for the goddess. Fortunately, this custom is not practised in modern-day Latvia. Festivities included masquerades, parades, sleigh riding, dances and preparing lots of food. There was also Marti parades going around in Martini. Big Marti´s were grown-ups and small Marti´s were children. Marti´s were people who painted their faces and dressed up as spirits of the dead. ​These parades were common in other countries as well. Like Austria, Germany, Finland, Netherlands, Sweden and Estonia (just to name a few).

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Vélinés

Vélinés is the Lithuanian celebration f vélés the spirits. It begins after the autumn equinox and lasts until the end of October or the beginning of November. During this time not only in the immediate family remembered but also the more distant ancestors. The dead leave for another world — it is not far away, but relatively close by. The dead can return and play with the forces of nature.

One of the symbols of this festival is the fire Ugnis. The hearth joins the family together. It links the ancestors and deities with the living family members. It was believed that many vélés live near the hearth.

During this time graves were visited and decorated and honoured. In the 15th century, this feast took place in the wooded groves. After the harvest had been gathered. people would bring food, drink and feast for days. Each would have their own fire for making the offerings.

The celebration took place in homes as well. People would arrange straw on a table and cover this with a white tablecloth and then place several loaves of bread and a pitcher of ale on the corner. Other food would then be placed on the table and prayers and offerings were made.

Some grain and beer would be offered to the hearth fire, sprinkled into the ground, and all the corners of the house, which were the most important dwelling places of the souls. Ritual prayers would be said during this ceremony.

After the graves were visited a family dinner was hold. Before eating, the head of the family would hold up a kausas (offering cup reserved for this occasion- also known as skull cup) and place within it, various grains, flour and salt. The contents would be poured into the hearth fire with the words: “For all our dear friends”. A drinking horn would be then be passed around the table with appropriate toasts and the dinner would begin.

Harvest and war songs were sung. If there was a soul that was particularly honoured an empty place was reserved for them in the table, complete with a cup, plate and towel. During the meal candles or small torches were burned. Morsels from each dish were symbolically offered and placed on the plate.

By candlelight all family members would gather in silence and the older person would pray “Shades of the dead, who still remember this house, honoured ancestors, grandfather, grandmother, father and mother (the dead are named) who are worthy of eternal remembrance and all our relatives and children whom death has taken from us, we invite you, honoured ancestor, as are sweet, our memories of you”.

Feast For The Dead

Small tables were decorated for the dead. One could find them from the graves and from the woodland groves. Food and candles were arranged for these small tables. There was not a “one right way” to celebrate Vélines. All the families had their own methods.

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Folklorist and historian. Alcott essayist. A host of the Little Women Podcast.

Finland, MN
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