Christmas in Latvia: Latvian Christmas traditions
The Yule log once played an important role in traditional Latvian Christmas celebrations. Villagers felled an oak tree from which they obtained their logs. They pulled these logs round their properties and then set fire to them. Several families might share a single log, which was burned after it had been dragged round the last homestead. Latvian lore offers two different explanations for this custom. One interprets the log as a kind of sponge that absorbs all the ill luck that clings to the household. Burning it permits the family to begin the new year with a clean slate. Another suggests that the logs signify life and burning them entices the sun to spend more time in the sky.
Mumming was another traditional practice associated with the midwinter holidays. Called kekatas, kujenieki, budeli, cigani, preili or kaladnieki, these masked and costumed wanderers might appear anytime from Martinmas to Carnival (the festival that precedes the start of Lent). They were most active at Christmas time, however. Popular mummers’ disguises included those of wolves, horses, bears, cranes, goats, short men, tall women, haystacks, Death, dead people, and fortune-tellers. Under the direction of a "father,” they traveled from house to house singing songs and telling fortunes. One frequently used fortune-telling method involved ladling molten lead or wax into a pail of icy water and reading the twisted shapes as signs of future events. Their visits were thought to scare off harmful spirits, to promote fertility, and to bless. In exchange for all these favors, householders offered the mummers food and drink.