Elina Brukle | 30 November, 2021


Many centuries ago, the dark and gloomy time after the harvesting was when the exciting masking could begin. This ancient Latvian tradition uncovers a world of strange tales, adorable characters and overflowing energy — and has still much to say about the nature of life and our urge to celebrate.

Thank you to Dr. biol., Mag. phil. Aida Rancane for leading us into this fascinating world. Being one of the most prominent connoisseurs of Latvian traditional culture, the researcher has dived deeply into the masking phenomenon both academically and practically.

Evelīna Deicmane, MADARA Cosmetics

Illustration by Agnessaga

The Little Man. Mask by Evelina Deicmane. Photo by Julija Prohorenkova


Masking was one of the best-known Latvian traditions, practiced from late Autumn to early Spring, with the most intense activities occurring around the winter solstice. The masks were made from natural materials, old cloths and things that no longer served everyday needs.

People walked from home to home, singing, dancing, playing games and performing little sketches, all to attract abundance and fertility, and scare away the evil.

Here are five things to love about this tradition, and three masks you can easily make by yourself.


1. Embracing oneness

Unlike in many other cultures, where masking has traditionally been the privilege of men, here women also participated in these rituals.

Quite often the roles were reversed — females turned into male characters and vice versa to borrow the magical qualities of the opposite sex. It was also a symbolic return to the pre-world, which was not yet split into dualities.

“It was also a symbolic return to the pre-world, which was not yet split into dualities.”

Photos by Julija Prohorenkova


2. Sustainable attitude

The masks were made from natural raw materials, such as fabric, linen, tows, tree bark and wood. Things that were old and worn were especially useful — as they already belonged to a different world.

3. Vibing with the nature

These ancient festivities emerge from a sense of cyclicality and the ever-present struggle between light and darkness in both humans and nature. It was a way of overcoming fear, reconciling contradictions and seeing a new beginning with every ending.

Evelīna Deicmane, MADARA Cosmetics

Masks by Evelina Deicmane. Photo by Julija Prohorenkova


4. Social loosening

Festivities often mean giving in to what’s bubbling deep inside you — symbolically returning to a state of chaos that existed before the world was created. Masking allowed people to step outside their everyday roles, loosening boundaries and norms of behavior.

“There’s sexuality and erotica in the air, as many of the attributes are symbols of fertility. There’s laughter. And there are deeds that manifest the nature of life itself.”

5. A new beginning

Masking gives a chance to see yourself, others and the world in a new light. “These rituals speak a different language,” says Aida Rancane, “they go beyond the usual level of consciousness”. After you have unleashed the primordial powers, recognized and left behind the unnecessary, you are ready for a new beginning — be it a new year, new season or new chapter in your life.

Evelīna Deicmane, MADARA Cosmetics

Photo by Julija Prohorenkova

How to make your own mask

There were masks of four kinds — human and animal figures, objects and mythological characters. It was important to go unrecognized, so not only one’s appearance, but also voice had to be disguised.

The Crane

The character of the crane came to peck young girls with its beak to ensure fertility in the coming year.

1. Take a rod or a broomstick, and tie it to your back.

2. Drape a scarf or a blanket over the top.

3. Tie a broom-tail at the bottom of the rod.

4. On the top, attach the crane’s head — a bag stuffed with hay. Draw eyes on the sides of the bag with charcoal and attach the beak, made of cardboard or wooden boards.

The Crane. Mask by Evelina Deicmane. Photo by Julija Prohorenkova

The Horse

Just like the crane, the horse is also part of the mask group of animal figures. These mythical animals belong to the other world, serving as mediators to help humans achieve fertility and regeneration.

The horse was traditionally created by two guys or girls, one behind the other.

1. Attach a tail made of tows to the back.

2. The person at the front holds a rod with a horse’s head made of wood or fabric (such as old trousers) attached.

3. The eyes, ears and mane are sewn onto the head.

4. Drape a blanket on the horse’s back.

Evelīna Deicmane, MADARA Cosmetics

Illustration by Agnessaga

The Heystack

The heystack belongs to the mask group of objects, and is a symbol of harvest and fertility. Some think that the winter solstice masks might have stood for different constellations.

1. Take a large scarf or cloth, attach its top part to one end of a long stick.

2. Attach the bottom of the cloth to a round hoop.

3. Cover or sew everything with hay bales.

4. Cover or sew hey onto it all.

Masks by Evelina Deicmane. Photo by Julija Prohorenkova

The Wolf and the Goat

The Wolf came out of darkness to meet the Goat, which stood for light. In many solstice games they play groom and bride, and their dancing is an act of fertility.

“The feminine was traditionally associated with darkness, while the masculine — with light.”

Wearing a particular mask allowed emphasizing your personal characteristics or appropriating the ones you lacked, especially in the case of initiation rituals.

Evelīna Deicmane, MADARA Cosmetics

The Crane and The Goat. Masks by Evelina Deicmane. Photo by Julija Prohorenkova


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