The title of this post may seem a bit odd to most readers – how is there a culture revolving around cemeteries?
In Latvia, cemeteries (“kapi” or “kapsētas”) are a very important part of life. Great care is taken to keep the graves of family and loved ones looking tidy and pretty. While in many Western countries you will probably never meet the family members of the people buried next to your loved ones, in Latvia it is not entirely unusual to be on a first-name basis with them.
Cemeteries also host “kapusvētki” – social celebrations at cemeteries. These usually involve a religious ceremony, singing, a socializing portion, and sometimes lighting of candles. I have not yet had the opportunity to attend one, but hopefully I will when I start living in Latvia for more of the year.
To reflect the importance of cemeteries in Latvian national consciousness, a new magazine was released this summer. Called “In Memoriam”, it talks about the phenomenon of “kapusvētki”, gives suggestions for flowers and shrubs to plant at gravesites, provides recommendations for styles of gravestones, comments on the continuing debate of whether or not to include photos on gravestones, and much more. If you want to see a preview, you can do so here. According to this news article (in Latvian), two issues of “In Memoriam” will be released this summer, and number of copies sold will decide if they will release it again next year.
When I visit cemeteries in Canada, I rarely encounter other people. But cemeteries in Latvia, especially in the summer, are full of people caring for graves. Outside the front gates of most larger cemeteries you can find numerous flower and candle vendors. Proper upkeep of family graves is considered a reflection on the family, and thus socially encouraged. For those who may not be able to make the trip out to the countryside regularly to care for family graves, or for those who live abroad, some people in local communities will often offer grave care services.
Have you read the latest issue of “In Memoriam”? Does your family have its own cemetery traditions? Share your stories in comments!