Latvian Song Festivals

Latvian song festival (also Song and dance festival) is a rather breathtaking event, held every 5 years, when some 30 thousand “singers” (typically, regular people) sing various Latvian songs together.

To the Latvians, the Song Festival is more than a festival, and more like a major foundation of their nation. That’s because it was the songs and such festivals that launched the Latvian national revival in the second half of 19th century. Having learned about their folk songs, Latvians ceased to regard their own culture as inferior to the cultures of larger nations (German, Russian, Polish) and demanded an equal status to it.

Latvian sogng festival taking place in 1931
Latvian song festival taking place in 1931.

Songs also had an important role in the independence restoration of the Baltic States in 1990. Therefore, while such Song Festivals used to be common in Europe in the 19th century, Baltic States are the only place where they acquired a cult status and continue to this day, and the Latvian event is one of the largest.

Initially a 19th-century grassroots movement, the Song Festivals have been transformed into a government-supported multi-day extravaganza by the independent Latvia. They were recognized as an intangible world heritage by UNESCO. In addition to the “main festivals”, there are various smaller song festivals held, for example, by Latvian diaspora communities.

The recent and upcoming “main” Latvian Song Festivals were or will be held in 2008, 2013, 2018, 2023, 2027.

Song festival mural in Riga
Song festival mural in Riga. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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