Celebrations and commemorations

Celebrations and commemorations were an integral part of the public life of Latvians in exile and they play an important role in maintaining Latvian identity, unity and patriotism.

The most significant festival was the celebration of Latvia's independence on 18 November. For the first time in England, it was organised for the general public by the Latvian Legation on 18 November 1949. The church service took place in St. John's Church, but the ceremony, concert and reception in Fullham Town Hall. The address was given by the envoy Kārlis Zariņš, but the concert was performed by the London Latvian Choir conducted by Alberts Jērums, with soloists Lidija Maršalka and Edvīns Krūmiņš. Later, the Latvian Welfare Fund (Daugavas Vanagu fonds – DVF) and the Latvian National Council in Great Britain (LNPL) were involved in organizing this festival in London. This national holiday was also widely celebrated in the largest Latvian centres.

In London on 14 June 1947, the Latvian Society of Great Britain organised the first memorial service for those who had been deported by the Soviet Union from Latvia to Siberia and beyond in June 1941. The church service was enriched with appropriate songs and poems performed by Latvian artists. Since then this Remembrance Day has been held annually. After its founding, the event was organised by the Baltic Council, as it still is today, and musical performances were given by artists from all three Baltic states.

Latvian refugees continued the annual tradition of the so-called “Friendly Invitation” initiated in 1935 by the then president of Latvia Kārlis Ulmanis. The invitation called on Latvians to donate books, educational and art materials to their local schools. The event usually included an invited speaker, who talked on cultural and historical issues, followed by musical performances, often by children from the Latvian mother-tongue school. The evening's income was donated to an educational project, such as children's camps at the "Latvian Home" in Almeley.

Among the refugees who settle in Great Britain, there were many university graduates, who had been members of fraternities and sororities back in Latvia. They re-established ties with their compatriots and continue to meet, celebrating the internal traditions that had been part of their university life. One such public tradition at the end of September or the beginning of October was the commemoration of the founding of the University of Latvia. At the beginning, this event was organized by Latvian National Council and the Society of Latvians in Great Britain, but later members of the fraternities and sorities took over this responsibility. The event included an address by a representative of the Latvian Legation (nowadays by the Latvian Embassy), and an academic speech given by a fraternity of sorority member, followed by a musical performance and social evening.

An important event for the Latvian Welfare Fund members, most of whom were ex-soldiers, was a memorial service for Oskars Kalpaks (1882 – 1919), who was the commander of the 1st Latvian Independent Battalion during the First World War.

The Latvian Lutheran Church in Britain gathered compatriots on “Congregation Day” once a year after the Synod. Christmas, Easter and Pentecost are always celebrated together within the local congregations. These traditional events are still maintained.

For most Latvians, the most important and popular festival of the year is “Jāņi” (St. John’s Day), which celebrates the summer solstice. In 1942, the Society of Latvians in Great Britain established a tradition of organizing a trip to the country during Midsummer. After the Second World War, when a large number of refugees arrived in England, the celebration of Midsummer became an important gathering focus for the Latvian community. The “Latvian Home” in Almeley and also Rowfant House were popular venues for celebration. From the late 1970s, several thousand people were able to gather at “Straumeni” (Catthorpe Manor). Latvian choirs, dance groups and folklore ensembles with specially prepared programmes always enriched the festival with performances. Since 2010, thousands of Latvians have gathered at “Straumēni” to celebrate the "Midsummer Festival" organized by the association "Bērzes Strazdi".

Latvian National Day meeting. 18 November [1960s]

Talk on “Latvians in foreign countries” by Jānis Andrups. Performance of the Cantata “For the Fatherland” by Andrejs Jurjāns (soloist Marija Vinter, conductor Helmers Pavasars, organist Alberts Jērums). Latvian National Day meeting. 18 November [1960s]

Address by Jānis Frišvalds at a Latvian National Day meeting. 18 November 1968.