Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The "cilts" welcomes Mikus

Christianity was introduced to Latvia in the 13th century. However, the pagan beliefs weren’t completely replaced. Pockets of paganism endured, especially in the countryside, and these ancient roots are still visible even in holidays such as Ziemassvētki  (Christmas) and Lieldienas (Easter). Often what originated as pagan ritual has survived as culturally significant tradition, and we celebrate both our religion and our tradition through our faith and our customs.

Mikus in the arms of his grandfather
Our son Mikus was christened while we were in Chicago, and after the service we invited friends and family to the banquet hall across the street from the church to help us mark this important occasion. It was fun organizing the party, but I most enjoyed incorporating some of the aspects of these ancient Latvian customs into our modern day fête. In Latvian the christening is called kristības, but the pagan equivalent – krustabas.

Preparing for the ātrā maltīte
In the old days the krustabas would be the first big celebration in a child’s life at which time he would be given a name. The word krustabas is derived from the Latvian word for cross, krusts, which is also found in the words godmother and godfather, krustmāte and krusttēvs.  The infant is called a pāde, and the celebration starts with the ātrā ēšana (fast eating). So called because the white foods (usually bread and milk, white which symbolizes purity so the child has a bright future) must be eaten quickly so the pāde grows up with a good work ethic and not lazy. The guests stand in a circle, close to one another (so the pādes teeth come in evenly) and hopefully don’t talk amongst themselves too much, so the pāde doesn’t grow up to be a gossip.

Onkulis Alnis takes a turn during the pādes dīdīšana
Later the guests gather again, this time for the pādes dīdīšana; a sort of meet-the-baby ritual that differed from region to region. Omammīte recalls how Roberts was izdīdīts, the guests had to "rain silver" into his cradle which entitled them to a dance with the baby. Our guests formed a circle again, singing their well-wishes while each person took a turn dancing with Mikus. It is believed that good luck and happiness will result from this dancing, but I like that each guest had a chance to hold Mikus, if even for only a minute.

Some take the dīdīšana a little more seriously than others
There are many more traditions and beliefs associated with the krustabas, ranging from how to decorate the room to what foods to serve, and I really enjoyed learning more about these customs as my sister Anna was putting together the pādes dīdīšana. For example, a child must wear the same shirt as his brothers so that they get along. Mikus wore the same christening dress as not only his brother, but as his cousins and father, and for the krustabas he wore the same shirt and pants Lauris and my brother Māris wore for their dīdīšana. I’m hoping there will be harmony not just between brothers but among the extended family.

The happy pādīte in the arms of tante Zinta
We had a wonderful time with family and friends and the day ended much too quickly. An enormous thank you to my sister and Mikus’s godmother Anna for organizing the krustabas, putting together the booklets of lyrics and ensuring the completion of these traditions on the day of my son’s christening.


  1. Liene, I really love reading about how your family celebrates Latvian customs! It is so fascinating, and as an American who grew up overseas, I always feel a little "roots envy." I love it when parents who speak another language pass that on to their children, and remember their unique cultural traditions-- I pretty much grew up without any, besides celebrating Christmas and Easter in the American way.

  2. It was so interesting to read about these customs. I think it's important to keep family/cultural customs. While our family doesn't have any customs like these, we do have some "traditions" that I'm glad to see the younger generation (that's your age group!) are keeping. For instance, on alternate years, all the grandchildren come home for Thanksgiving with my parents. It's so wonderful to hear them share memories from past Thanksgivings.
    I hope you're doing well.

  3. Another great entry Liene! A lot of Pagan customs exist actually because Christians had to appropriate Pagan rituals into their Christian traditions as a way to relate to pagans and "lure" them to their Christian religion.
    Once again, I've learned a bit more about myself and my own Latvian traditions through your writing. Paldies!

  4. I'm proud to call such a great kid my godson and I can't wait to watch him grow into an amazing person!

  5. Paldies Liene...I loved reading about krustabas and learning a little more of my own culture!

  6. I love learning so much about your culture. It looks like it was a fun celebration!

  7. What a wonderful tradition! I love learning about the customs but also the beautiful meanings behind them. Thank you for sharing at the Culture Swapper!


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