Latvians have a deeply rooted tradition of paying their respects to their deceased family members, in the form of annual, commemorative, gravesite ceremonies. Known as kapu svētki in Latvian, these memorial events take place on Sundays during the summer months, from June until the end of August.
At one cemetery, for example, such ceremonies may take place every year on the second Sunday in July, while at another they may occur on the third Sunday in August. During the days that precede each kapu svētki, the relatives of the deceased clean up and tidy the cemetery grounds. The footpaths are raked, the gravestones are washed and flowers are placed at each gravesite.
On the day of the commemorative event, the cemetery is abuzz with activity. Christian pastors of all denominations may be present to lead prayers for the departed. This is the time when close and distant relatives assemble from far and wide in their best Sunday dress. It is a time to meet again every year and to renew family ties. After paying their respects at the gravesites of their loved ones, the members of each family hold a lunch or dinner in tribute of their departed relatives.
During the fall, another, similar event - popularly known as the "candle evening" (svecīšu vakars), but more formally termed as the Day to Commemorate the Dead (Mirušo piemiņas diena) - is held at cemeteries across the country. In Riga, the "candle evening" takes place on the fifth Sunday before Christmas Day (i.e. at the end of November, on the Sunday that precedes Advent Sunday), while in other Latvian cities it may occur at another time during the fall.
Shortly after the sun has gone down, family members gather at the gravesites of their relatives, carrying small garlands made of pine or spruce branches, which they place by the headstones, along with lit candles. As darkness sets in, every cemetery in Riga is ablaze with the lights of thousands of candle flames. This is a surreal and moving scene that is not soon
Keywords: Riga, icon