We were recently lucky to be invited to the Independence Day celebrations at our local village school. For my non Latvian readers that is independence from Soviet occupation not aliens. A hugely important day, one in which Latvians celebrate their freedom, culture and what it means to be Latvian.
On a bitterly cold evening we arrived at what we thought was an early time, only to find all the seats taken. I suspect people were saving money on heating their homes and keeping warm at the school. The celebrations began with a concert of traditional music, song and dance. All age groups of the village were involved and it was a surprisingly professional production from a small community with an estimated population of less than 400. One thing Latvians do really well is celebrate and acknowledge individuals contributions to their communities. During an interval in the concert speeches were given by local dignitaries and certificates awarded to individuals who have made a significant contribution to the community. After each award members of the audience queued to give flowers to the recipients. A lovely gesture but I did feel slightly uncomfortable when a couple of award winners only received 3 or 4 bunches of flowers when most of others had long queues. These local heroes are often overlooked in the UK, perhaps one of my UK readers can instigate this back in my homeland.
There now followed a break in the festivities whilst Valdis our plumber and school caretaker prepared the hall for the party. In most countries I have visited the residents of rural villages and large cities are like chalk and cheese, totally different. Latvia is no different. Let me set the scene, a Latvian folk/rock/pop band called Zelli who have been doing the Latvian village hall circuit for the last 36 ish years, a lead singer with hair down to his backside, a collection of mullet hair styles, shiny shirts and a Romeo dressed in a white suit, shiny black shirt and white tie. Everyone brought their own food and drink and danced until the early hours, 4.00 am I heard. By that time I had been tucked up in bed for 3hrs, what a lightweight I hear you all say. Yes you are right. Going to have to get in training for next year as I will definitely go again if invited. What was great to observe and says a lot about the community spirit in the village, is that all ages were there, from your teenagers to your septuagenarians and all socio economic groups. In fact everyone was there dancing with each other, partying and enjoying themselves. Even the local drinkers had dancing partners all night. Inta asked me at the end of the night what I had thought about my evening. My response was it was like being in a museum, but a very friendly one. A great night.