Wedding traditions

Wedding ring In this section we will introduce you to some of the wedding traditions and give you an idea what you can or cannot expect in our wedding. There are many traditions and they are interpreted differently, but this is purely our own understanding of things.

In the old days, Latvian weddings could last up to four days (starting in the bride’s house and ending in the groom’s house). Nowadays, one and a half day is a more common duration. If you read the intro published here previously, you will learn more what exactly to expect from our wedding now. If you did not read the intro previously, it is the right time to get acquainted with the wedding customs and do’s and don’ts at our wedding.

In Latvia, a wedding ceremony can take place nearly anywhere (indoor, outdoor, in the air or at sea), but we decided to hold ours in church. If you want to know why, ask Līga! Otherwise, just to have an organ playing for us is already a good reason. Our wedding ceremony will be rather traditional. The program of the ceremony will be handed to the guests upon arrival at the church.

After the wedding ceremony we will share a glass of sparkly wine with some light snacks and make some joyful photos. Here is the first don’t: Latvians love to go with flowers everywhere, including to the wedding. Guests bring flowers to the newlyweds, the newlyweds give flowers to their parents and this whole flower exchange takes place after the ceremony. As announced in the invitation, we are breaking with this tradition! Our wedding party venue will be decorated, no extra flowers needed there. Besides, given that we all are travelling to the ceremony and after the ceremony to the party, extra flowers would become a burden to everyone. Nevertheless, we will have some floral touch for the wedding ceremony. In honour of Marvin’s heritage, we borrowed a British tradition of having flower girls (our nieces will give us a trail of flowers).

After a glass of sparkly and a few photos, the adventure leads to the party venue (Guest house Labo sajūtu parks “Vāgneris”). Līga and Raf will take a different route and will arrive a bit later than guests in the party venue.

Why do we take a different route? It is a nowadays tradition that the newlyweds have a little journey with a photo session after the ceremony. The journey might also bring a little extra adventure with the crossing of seven bridges, making wishes, promises etc., but for us it will be time together on our own before we jump into the next adventure of our Wedding wonderland.

One thing we cannot be sure about are random gates on our way. So called gates are very common in a Latvia wedding. It is not rare that the newlyweds are stopped on their way to church or after the church by people holding some symbolic gate (e.g. decorated ribbon) and asking to “unlock” the gate for the newlyweds to be able to continue their route. Usually gates are unlocked by doing some little task, but it can be done also by giving a little present from bride and groom (candies or a bottle of sparkly wine are the most common “payment” for gate keepers). It is thought that the tradition of gates dates back to days when real gates were locked to prevent stealing of bride. Usually the local people make it difficult for the groom to take the bride away. Probably it is one of the ways to test his good intentions and his suitability.

In many traditions vedēji (which could be translated as persons bringing or persons guiding) have an important role. Vedēji usually are a couple being both the official witnesses in the ceremony and also sort of guides to the newlyweds during the wedding and sometimes afterwards. Vedēji have their role to play in the traditional rituals and they often are the ones making sure that the bride is not stolen. Vedēji to an extent resemble godparents as they are persons to whom to turn to for advice when needed. They are among those few persons to actually remember the wedding anniversaries and check on the life of the new couple.

līdzināšana Our wedding party will start with Līdzināšana (can be translated as equalization or alignment). Līdzināšana is an ancient marriage ceremony during which two paths meet to become one. Given that we have our ceremony in the church, we will go for a reduced version of Līdzināšana. We will be led into this tradition by a folk group, and here is an approximate plan of Līdzināšana.

Upon our arrival at the guest house, we will have to cross the so-called gate of honour where our vedēji and guests will be welcoming us. The guests (you) will form an alley through which we will have to navigate and you will throw leaves of linden, oak tree and maple in our path.

After the gate of honour and alley, we will arrive at a stone of līdzināšana to have a ritual against evil. It will be followed by setting a small ritual fire in which we and our vedēji will sacrifice small things (women usually sacrifice something made of wool, men something made of iron). Fire is present in many Latvian celebrations and rituals and usually it is thought to prevent evil from joining and also to bring wealth (it certainly can bring some extra warmth and light and it helps to keep safe from mosquitos in the Midsummer night).

After the rituals, Līga and Raf will make a promise to each other. After the promise, Līdzināšana takes place with a song wishing strengths. In our case Līdzināšana will be concluded by a cross dance after which we all will head to dinner.

According to traditions, the wedding party takes place at the groom’s house, thus party (dinner) venue symbolizes Raf’s house. Before entering the party venue, Raf’s parents will welcome Līga and Raf with bread and water.

As for the dinner, we plan to offer two served courses followed by savoury and sweet snack buffets. In the old days, guest brought so-called ciemakukulis (ciemakukulis is some food or drink guests bring to share with everyone during the event). Nowadays, it is not so common to bring ciemakukulis, but considering that our guests come from different places, we thought that you could have fun bringing a small piece of your favourite cheese to share with everyone on a cheese platter. It is purely voluntarily and if you do decide to bring some cheese, a small piece is sufficient (150 grams is already a lot ☺). While having dinner, you might be surprised that some of the guests start to find everything bitter (rūgts), it might even happen that your food also starts to feel bitter. Don’t worry! If it becomes too bitter, just shout out “rūgts” and others will join you in calling “rūgts”. To sweeten your meal, Raf and Līga will kiss. The belief is that kissing enhances fertility and life without worries.

Usually during the dinner some guests give toasts and there are also a couple of ice-breaking activities before hitting the dance floor. Often in Latvian weddings, vedēji are masters of ceremony taking care that the ice is properly broken, but we wanted our wedding to be a celebration for our vedēji too. We will therefore have a dedicated master of ceremony, Marija.

The first dance is a part of nearly any wedding and it is meant to “open” the dance floor and welcome everybody dancing. We hope to teach you some traditional Latvian dances (usually referred to as danči).

Parties sometimes last till the crack of dawn, but the culmination point is usually around the midnight when mičošana takes place. Mičošana is an old Latvian tradition during which the newly-weds transform from bride and groom into man and wife. According to traditions, one can still call the wedding off after marriage in church, but there is no way to call the wedding off after mičošana.

In ancient times, the bride was stolen and her family had to run after her to steal her back. Stealing back always had to take place before mičošana. Stealing of the bride since then has turned into one of the modern wedding activities and it can go as far as stealing the groom (in case the bride is well guarded and difficult to steal). For us it is the second don’t. We chose each-other and we want to be together and enjoy our wedding party together and with you, our guests. We see no point in being locked out of the party and waiting till we are found and “bought out”. This is certainly not a fun tradition!

Going back to mičošana, in our case it will be led by a folk group and probably we would ask mičošana to take place before midnight. For mičošana, Līga needs to have a flower wreath on her head. If she does not have one throughout the day, she is “crowned” with it right before mičošana. Mičošana usually takes place outside, unless weather is too bad. The walk to the mičošanas place follows a certain order: the folk group walks in front followed by Līga and Raf, then the vedēji, carriers of Līga’s dower (yes, there is a dower), the parents and the rest of the guests. At the mičošana place everyone stands in a circle and Līga and Raf dance with young girls and men (usually this dance is with unmarried young guests, in our case it will be an improvisation).

After the dance, the dower is placed in the middle of the circle un Līga sits on it. During the mičošana song, Raf will put on white wedding gloves and he will take a sword, which will be used to take the flower wreath off Līga. Once the flower wreath is taken off, the mičotāja (lady performing the ritual) will put the wife's head cover on Līga. Mičotāja will take the flower wreath off the sword and will put it in a kerchief. During a song, Līga and mičotāja will dance with the flower wreath. After the dance, Līga will give the flower wreath to her mother.

The next activity is sharing Līga’s dower. Before the dower is opened, some rituals are performed on it (e.g. Līga dances on or around the dower and Raf donates coins on the corners of the dower). Līga and Raf will share the dower with the nearest family and vedēji. In days of yore, young girls started to weave, sew, knit etc from an early age all sort of goods for their dower. The dower travelled along the new bride to her new house and some of the finer things were shared with the in-laws and family to show and obtain goodwill. Traditionally, the dower was opened several times during the wedding celebration to show the diligence of the bride and also the wealth of her father’s household.

In the old days, not long after mičošana the newly-weds would go to take a good night’s sleep, while guests could dance until the rooster sings its song and the sun rises. In fact, it is believed that joyfulness of the guests and dancing till the dawn enhances happiness in the marriage. Our third don’t is: no throwing of Līga’s flower bouquet. Nowadays influenced by romantic movies Latvian brides throw their bouquets for unmarried ladies to catch, but an old Latvian tradition is to guard bridal bouquet closely throughout the day and to keep it in the room where the newlyweds spend their night. Līga will dry her bouquet and keep it at least till the first anniversary.

The next morning might involve waking up the newly-weds and other traditions. But generally the next morning is just for relaxing and enjoying the moment together before everyone returns home.

Congratulations if you read it all! ☺ However, there are many more small things taking place in the Latvian wedding, but as things can be quite unpredictable, we focused only on the main traditions and activities which are likely to occur during our wedding.