Why Celebrating Festivities Matters: The Mundane versus the Festive

Author: Ilze KacaneDaugavpils UniversityLatvia

In one of her poems related to family upbringing and the succession of female generations in the frames of patriarchal conceptions1, Latvian poetess Ārija Elksne (1928–1984) writes:

“Audziniet labi savas meitas – Iemāciet viņām svētkus svinēt.
Cik nabadzīgas tās ģimenes, Kas tikai darbdienas zina.”2

“Raise your daughters well – Teach them to celebrate.
How poor are the families, Which know only working days.”
[Translation from Latvian mine – I. K.]

A couple of years before, my colleague quoted this poem in a conversation she held with people sharing common views and values with her: she revealed that this poem had become her large family’s motto, as she considered that women are primarily responsible for preserving and continuing traditions in a family. People who were involved in this conversation observed that the three generations of this family did not simply mark holidays and festivities, but they placed them in an honourable position, and despite their day-to-day worries and tasks as well as heavy workloads, they planned and got ready for them in due time, being convinced that happy are only those families that not only work, but also celebrate together. Besides, they did not celebrate formally, they did it with their whole body and soul not only to break the daily routine and relax, but also make their ancestors feel proud, so that a festivity would be success and all generations would feel spiritually and emotionally satisfied.











Photos from Anna Vanaga family’s personal archive: celebrating holidays in the period of social isolation – May 4, 2020 – the 30th anniversary of the restoration of the Republic of Latvia’s independence. The 5th procession of national costumes “Put on a national costume in honour of Latvia” organized by the Latvian National Culture Centre, Centre of national costumes “Senā klēts” [The ancient Barn] and the society “Mans Tautas tērps” [My national costume] took place in a virtual environment, emphasising tradition’s independence of complicated conditions.

This discussion held among the colleagues showed that the issue about the necessity and ways of celebrating holidays, involving all the generations of the family and simultaneously preserving and developing the traditions, is being interpreted in different ways among families.

Taking into consideration the fact that our contemporary society experiences the transformation of traditions and the boundaries between “the mundane” and “the festive” get more and more blurred, the significance of developing holiday celebration traditions is often underestimated in families. However, to prepare children for life, families’ lifestyles, which are determined by the established traditions in the family circle, family atmosphere3 or the climate of the household and the family upbringing, play a crucial role. Although there are many tensions faced by people when trying to reconcile work and family life, the quintessence of any festivity and holiday is spending time with the immediate family and friends.

In examining “Inter-generational Dynamics in Informal Cultural Socialisation” in the framework of CHIEF Work Package 5, the interviewed families in Latvia mentioned celebrating holidays as the primary factor for creating a favourable family climate.4 Being an act of collective freedom and recreation5, any holiday, according to the interviewees, unites members of the family. The New Year is among the most celebrated festivities, whereas religious holidays (Christmas, Easter) can be observed even more than once, especially in culturally diverse families. On festive occasions such as Cemetery Festivals and during celebrations of summer solstice (Līgo and Jāņi – Midsummer Eve, Midsummer Day6), as well as birthdays and name days, the conversations may focus on the issues that are not traditionally discussed on a daily basis, for example, on the family history and inherited traditions, as well as future visions and expectations uniting all the generations. Thus, celebrating festivities enables families to feel the core of their communication being friendship and loyalty. The interviewed families perceive work duties, that belong to the category of the mundane, and celebration, which pertains to the category of the festive, as equally important.

A Latgalian family head, called “ded” [from Latgalian – “a grandpa”] not only by his own family members, but also by everybody else in his rural district, speaking about the importance of holidays says:

“She [granddaughter] sees, however, what is taking place in the family when we celebrate holidays and when we work. She sees everything and will understand and know what she has to do” (Deds Smilteņi, 65, F2, rural).

Having chosen a category “ded” to represent his identity, the interviewee simultaneously indirectly confirms that being the oldest man in the family he takes responsibility for all generations, takes care of every family member and therefore is respected by all. To his mind, the greatest force of farmers’ families, which function according to a patriarchal model, lies in their joint care about land and in work, as well as in celebrating holidays together; both aspects are considered equally important. His children and grandchildren follow the same teaching in life, telling us that “[o]n holidays we are always together. We come together to do jobs as well” (Anna Smilteņi, 16, F2, rural).

Celebrating holidays together with your family not only leaves you with a feeling of harmony, but also ensures the transmission of previous generations’ message (including values and traditions) to the present and future generations, thus helping to preserve cultural heritage:

“I was shown, for instance, that a fir-tree should be taken home and must be decorated on Christmas, or a bonfire should be made on St. John’s Eve” (Migle Migla, 14, F7, urban).

“We still have photos somewhere, where four generations make holiday pies” (Hugo Migla, 60, F7, rural).

Such “messages” settle in the “hope chest” of the younger generation’s consciousness and memory, and emerge in some specific period of life to serve as basis for creating the history of your own family traditions.

Thus, traditions, which have been developing within a definite circle, are tested by time and survive for some period of time becoming a habit. However, as the interviewees have admitted, in former times, everything was much grander and on a wider scale, for example, “Midsummer Day is quite a different festivity now than it used to be in the past. The traditions of the past have lost their value” (Andrejs Petrovs, 20, F6, urban). Young people acknowledge that the involvement of all three generations is of particular importance in ensuring the continuity of cultural heritage: if one of the family generations is missing, the knowledge received is not sufficient and detailed enough. In this context, we have to go back to the lines of the verse in the song “Līgo dziesma” [A Līgo song] performed by the exiled Latvian musical ensemble “Čikāgas piecīši” [The Five from Chicago]:  so that our children’s children, “always know the Līgo songs”, then the old should sing together with the young, and songs should be taught with the aim that when daughters and sons would have their own children “with them on St. John’s Day / at recalling the old words / the Līgo song would be young again…”.

In a TV interview conducted in 1974, poetess Ārija Elksne was asked what kind of problems preoccupied her most of all. At present, almost half a century later, her answer seems more topical than ever before, namely, “How […] to live correctly in our society, how to properly bring our children up, how to struggle against the utilitarian sense of life, against the cult of well-being […].7 In times when people persistently strive for a higher and higher level of well-being, preparation for festivities is often missing and celebrations gradually become inferior. Due to constant business of parents and work-life imbalance, economic issues, as well as young people’s growing “unwillingness”, their informal cultural socialisation and participation have been challenged. In order to avoid not only families, but the whole nation stepping onto the path of “passive existence”, the communication intensity and frequency between generations should increase. A qualitative celebration of festivities, withdrawing from the pragmatic paradigm and daily routine, is an underestimated wealth. Festivities enhance acquiring irreplaceable values that strengthen social (obligations) and cultural (knowledge, intellectual skills, behavioural patterns, speech style, a.o.) capital8, as well as the sustainability of family and society in general.


1 Auziņa, A. (2019). Sievietes pieredze un valoda: Vizmas Belševicas, Ārijas Elksnes un Montas Kromas dzeja laikmeta kontekstā. Promocijas darbs. Vadītāja: Prof., Dr. philol. Ausma Cimdiņa. Rīga.

2 Elksne, Ā. (1973). Klusuma krastā. Rīga: Liesma, 41.

3 See: Dreikurs R., Soltz V. (1964). Children: The Challenge. New York: Hawthorn.

4 Material is based on: Kacane, I. (2020). Intergenerational Dynamics in Informal Cultural Socialisation (Latvia), in Popov, A. and Şentürk, Y. (eds) WP5: Research on Intergenerational Dynamics of Cultural Socialisation: Deliverable 5.1: Intergenerational Dynamics in Informal Cultural Socialisation, 169– 214.

5 Davydova, V. V. (2009). Ontologicheskoe Pole Prazdnika. Voprosy Kul’turologii. 6, 61–64.

6 Līgo celebration, summer solstice, included in the Latvian Cultural Canon [Latvijas kultūras kanons, 2008] cultural sphere “Traditional Culture”, is one of the most ancient and “yet these days the most widely-celebrated”. Online: https://kulturaskanons.lv/en/archive/jani/ The Latvian Cultural Canon, “Cornerstone of a United Society” is aimed at contributing to the awareness of the originality of Latvian cultural heritage, uniting the society around common features, facilitating public, especially young people’s, cultural education. Online: https://kulturaskanons.lv/en/

7 Intervija ar Āriju Elksi (1992). Jaunā Gaita No 188. Online: https://jaunagaita.net/jg188/JG188_Elksne.htm

8 Bourdieu, P. (1986). The Forms of Capital. In: J. Richardson, ed. Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. New York: Greenwood, pp. 241–258.


About the author

Dr. Ilze Kacane, is a senior researcher at the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences at Daugavpils University (Latvia) and Head of the Centre of Cultural Research within the Institute. She is an expert of the Latvian Council of Science in the commission “Humanities and Arts” in the research area “Linguistics and Literary Science,” and in the commission “Social Sciences” in the research area “Sociology and Social Work.” Her methodological expertise lies in comparative cultural studies; she is the editor of “Journal of Comparative Studies” and the author of one monograph and more than 100 research articles. She has broad experience in the implementation of national and international research projects. Currently she is involved in the Horizon 2020 project “Cultural Heritage and Identities of Europe’s Future” (CHIEF) funded by the European Commission; she participates in the work of WP1 and is DU team leader for WP5.