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Latvia is a small country in the northeast of Europe. One of Europe’s greenest countries, Latvia has stunning landscapes, a rich heritage and beautiful sites.
Not many people know much about Latvia, but when they do discover it, the country tends to impress, with its beautiful sites, cuisine, friendly people, rich history and flora and fauna. Many of these are also iconic symbols of Latvia.
Let’s take a look at some of the official and unofficial symbols that represent Latvia.
- National Day of Latvia: 18th November, which commemorates independence from German and Russian occupation
- National Anthem: Dievs, sveti Latviju (‘God Bless Latvia’)
- National Bird: White wagtail
- National Flower: Daisy
- National Tree: Oak and linden
- National Insect: Two-spot ladybird
- National Sport: Ice hockey
- National Dish: Pelekie zirni ar speki
- National Currency: Euro
National Flag of Latvia
The national flag of Latvia consists of three stripes – two wide carmine red stripes on the top and bottom and a thinner, white one in the middle.
The red is sometimes called ‘Latvian’ red and is a dark shade made of brown and purple. It symbolizes the readiness and willingness of the Latvian people to defend their freedom and give blood from their hearts.
According to legend, a Latvian leader, wounded in battle, was cared for by his men and was wrapped in a white sheet, which became stained with his blood. The white stripe featured on the flag may represent the sheet that he was wrapped in, while the red stands for blood.
Although the current design of the Latvian flag was officially adopted back in 1923, it was used long before that in the 13th century. It was first mentioned in the Rhymed Chronicle of Livonia and is known to be one of the oldest flags in the world. According to Latvian law, the flag and its colors can be used and displayed as an ornament only if respected in the proper way and any destruction or disrespectful treatment is a punishable offence.
The Latvian Coat of Arms
Since the Latvians didn’t have a medieval status, they also lacked a coat of arms. Soon after independence a new one was devised, following the heraldic tradition of Europe. It united several patriotic symbols of Latvia that are sometimes still used on their own.
The emblem has many elements:
- The coat of arms features three golden stars above a shield which represent the three historical regions of the country.
- Inside the shield is a golden sun which represents freedom.
- The bottom of the shield is divided into two separate fields.
- A red lion is depicted in one of the fields, symbolizing Courland and Semigallia
- A silver griffin is depicted in the other, representing Latgalia and Vidzeme (all regions of Latvia).
- At the base of the shield are the branches of an oak tree which is a national symbol of Latvia, tied with a red and white ribbon, the colors of the national flag.
Designed by Latvian artist Rihards Zarins, the coat of arms was officially adopted in 1921 and used until 1940 after which the emblem of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic was used. In 1990, it was restored and has continued to be used ever since.
National Anthem of Latvia
The national of anthem of Latvia called ‘Dievs, sveti Latviju’ which means ‘God Bless Latvia’ in English, was first composed in 1876 by a teacher known as Karlis Baumanis. During this time, the people of Latvia were beginning to exhibit a strong sense of national identity and pride.
In 1940, the communists annexed Latvia and the Latvian flag, national anthem and the coat of arms became illegal within the country itself for about 50 years. People who kept and hid the flag or sang the national anthem were persecuted for their illegal actions.
However, they came back into use at the end of the 1980s, marking the beginning of the renewed struggle for independence in the latter half of the 1900s.
The Freedom Monument
A memorial located in Riga, the capital city of Latvia, the Freedom Monument was built to honor the soldiers that were killed during the Latvian Independence War during 1918-1920. The Monument is considered a symbol of freedom, sovereignty and independence of Latvia and is usually a focal point of official ceremonies and public gatherings in the city.
At the top of the Monument is the statue of a young woman holding 3 stars above her head with both hands. As its name suggests, the monument symbolizes freedom. The three stars represents unity and the three historic provinces of Latvia. Two guards can be seen at the base of the Monument, representing the sovereignty of the country.
The Freedom Monument is 42 meters high, made of travertine, copper and granite and located in the center of the city of Riga. It’s currently endangered by air pollution and the climate which has caused a great deal of damage by rain and frost and has been restored twice during the Soviet era.
The national flower of Latvia is the daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) which is a common wildflower found all over the country. It blossoms in June, in time to be used for festive wreaths for Midsummer festivities. The flower keeps blooming until September, providing all Latvian flower lovers, celebrants and decorators with floral arrangements and gifts to be used throughout the summer.
In the past, the Latvians used the leaves of this little flower to purify blood and clean wounds. They would place the leaves on an open wound to draw all the poison or toxins out. However, there’s no scientific evidence that confirms the healing and purifying properties of daisies.
To the Latvians, the daisy, which was designated the national flower in the 1940’s, symbolizes purity and innocence. It was chosen as the national flower as a tribute to the Danish Princess and over time, it’s become a symbol of patriotism for the people of Latvia.
The Two-Spotted Ladybird
Also known as the two-spotted ladybug or the two-spotted lady beetle, this carnivorous insect belongs to the Coccinellidae family, found throughout the Holarctic region. Red, with two black spots, one on each wing, the ladybug is one of the most loved symbols in children’s fairytales and stories and is also seen as a talisman of luck. According to certain beliefs, if a two-spotted ladybug lands on someone, it means that the person will have two years of luck, as the number of spots it has stands for the number of lucky years.
The two-spotted ladybird is a useful insect that provides protection to plants from all kinds of parasites. It moves diligently and slowly and although it seems to be defenseless, it’s actually extremely good at defending itself. It’s one of the most common types of ladybirds in the country and is found in a variety of habitats such as towns, gardens and parks.
Bremen Musicians Statue
In the Old Town of Riga, you’ll come across the Bremen Musicians Statue, featuring the animals from the famous story by the Grimm Brothers – the donkey, the dog, the cat and the rooster, each animal standing upon another, with the rooster at the top.
The statue was a gift by the city of Bremen, Germany, and is a copy of the original monument which stands in the city. While the statue is meant to reference the famous tale, some believe that it holds political connotations – with each animal representing a type of politician. Because the animals are peeping from between two iron posts, it could also be a reference to the Iron Curtain.
In any case, the statue is one of the most popular sites in Riga and it’s believed that if you rub the donkey’s nose three times, it’ll give you luck, while rubbing it four times increases your chances at luck.
Latvian Folk Dress
Folk dress is a highly important part of Latvian culture and plays a symbolize role in the preservation of cultural heritage and national values. There are several variations of the costume depending on the region and each is unique. It’s also a complex costume especially if we think about the fact that it was entirely hand-made in the past.
The women wear a costume that includes a long skirt with a belt at the waist, a type of shirt and a shawl on some other type of headgear. It’s accessorized with many little buckles, buttons or jewelry.
The men, on the other hand, wear a simpler outfit. It’s similar to a large coat gathered at the waist and held together with a belt and accessorized with a hat and scarf around the collar or boots.
The national folk dress of Latvia expresses the nation’s sense of beauty as well as the ability to form ornaments and put together certain colors. It also symbolizes the old traditions and historical values of making the costume and wearing it, which has been done through generations.
Pelekie zirni ar speki
Pelekie zirni ar speki is the traditional national dish of Latvia, a type of stew made with grey peas, diced speck and friend onions. It’s often served with dark rye bread, sweet sourdough rye bread and in restaurants, its most often served with delicious, herb-flavored butter.
In the past, Latvians consumed this meal as a means of maintaining their energy levels while they worked in the fields. Today, it’s still widely prepared and consumed throughout the country, especially for special occasions and events.
The White Wagtail
The white wagtail (Motacilla alba) is a small bird native to Europe, the Asian Palearctic and certain parts of North Africa. It’s also the national bird of Latvia and is featured on several Latvian stamps as well as stamps of many other countries.
The white wagtail is typically slender with a long tail that’s constantly wagging. It’s an insectivorous bird that prefers feeding in bare areas since this makes it easier for it to see its prey clearly and pursue it. In urban areas of the country, it forages on pavements and car parks, nesting in crevices in the stone walls as well as on other man-made structures.
The people of Latvia believe that having a wild wagtail as an animal totem can give a person a feeling of gregariousness and excitement. It’s frequently mentioned in Latvian folk songs and represents the industriousness and hard work of the Latvian people.
The Oak and Linden Trees
Latvia has two national trees: the oak and the linden. Throughout history, both these trees have been traditionally used for medical purposes and are also often mentioned in fairytales, legends and some Latvian dramas.
The oak tree is a symbol of moral, knowledge, resistance and strength and is the national tree of certain other countries in Europe as well. Its wood is extremely dense which is what gives it its strength and hardness. It’s also resistant to insects and fungi since it has high amounts of tannin.
The linden tree has a special place in the hearts of the people, symbolizing love, fertility, peace, friendship, prosperity, fidelity and good luck. Its wood, flowers and leaves are typically used for medicinal purposes although there is no scientific evidence to confirm this. Today, oak bark and linden blossoms are still popular in medicinal preparations and teas throughout the country and both continue to be loved and revered by the Latvian people.
Latvia is one of those countries you hear little about, but tend to blow your mind away when you visit. As the symbols suggest, it’s a country of beautiful landscapes, a long history with lots of tribulations and a strong and resilient people.
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