The Meaning of Customs and Rites
A specific community accumulates a certain amount of beliefs, habits and activities and hands it down from generation to generation. The customs are the part of the immaterial cultural heritage and in the ever-changing world they, too, are being transformed or presented in a modern version. Generally, the purpose of a ritual is to create a vivid, memorable picture of a wedding ceremony in the people’s minds and to make the newlyweds realize the importance of this event and its impact on their future life as a young family and the duty of mutual faith and support through joys and hardships that they undertake by their wedding vows. The importance of a strong family as the society’s cornerstone was understood by people in the old times and stable traditions were seen as particularly necessary in human relationship and family matters. Over the years, in each family there evolves a custom that is typical of this family and is carried on from one generation to another.
One example of a Latvian wedding ritual performed in almost every wedding celebration attended by a vaster number of friends and relatives is mičošana, which means removing the bride’s headdress and putting on a wife’s bonnet (Latvian - mice, aube). The ritual takes place at midnight with folksongs, and the bride symbolically parts with her girlish days among her friends and enters the life of a married woman. The young husband, too, undergoes a similar ritual. Both newlyweds receive various tools and instructions for their married life. Now this ritual is often performed after the official wedding ceremony and its elements can be adapted to the occasion.
The choice of rites in wedding and christening ceremonies always depend on the beliefs and tastes of their participants. There are young couples wishing to follow the traditional rites, yet in a somewhat more modern form, avoiding the archaic element in them. Other couples and their parents do not feel the need for a traditional ritual at all. Nevertheless, it should be remembered that the wedding day is the beginning of a new and significant period in the newlyweds’ life, which we can further emphasise with the best intentions and wishes creating the firm basis for our mutual life in the most acceptable way, be it a traditional ritual or the activity of our own choice.
Similarly, in the christening ceremony with the folk or family rituals best wishes are extended to the child – happiness, lack of hardships, protection against evil and envy. However, the most important are the parent’s own intentions and wishes for their child that will accompany him or her throughout their life. It is the parents’ love and dedication to their child that will form the child’s self-perception, understanding of the family values, the world around and the attitude to oneself and other people.