Latvian funeral traditions change due to pandemic

The Latvian funeral traditions – to lay the deceased into the ground in a coffin, followed by a feast – have changed by the limits of the Covid-19 pandemic, as more choose cremation and fewer organize feasts, Latvian Radio reported on August 7.

When parting from the deceased, it is customary for Latvians to act in accordance with the traditions adopted long ago by organizing a funeral ceremony with the closest people and laying the dead in a coffin. However, the Covid-19 pandemic introduced new trends that can change the tradition in the coming years.

According to Edmunds Štreihfelds, president of the Latvian Association of Undertakers, the limits of the Covid-19 pandemic over the last two years and the available funds for funerals are a determining factor in why the funerals are not as big as 10 years ago, yet people try to continue to stick to traditions.

“If a certain tradition exists, it does not change drastically either. Perhaps there were a few technical things: in the period when we had the constraints imposed by the pandemic, people used crematorium services more, without ceremony, with the thought that the urn would then be buried in the cemetery, with dignity and honor [..]. If I remember, 30 years ago, people hired a brass quartet and a vocal quarter, then, as the years passed, the demand has narrowed for purely financial reasons,” Štreihfelds said.

Chief of the Riga Municipal Cemetery Administration, Gints Zēla, also said that burial traditions have not changed, and although the number of cremations is increasing, people do not yet choose this option as actively as in other countries. 

“I have to admit, I guess we don't choose [cremation] as much as we might like. It would be in the interest of any local government to choose this urn burial, because it reduces resources that the sites concerned are being occupied, but in Latvia this trend is not increasing so much, very actively, compared to, say, Estonia or any other European country. In Latvia, the classical type of burial is still being chosen,” said Zēla.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the organization of funerals, and due to restrictions, more and more people are willing to perform all the necessary services remotely to ensure the burial of the deceased.

There have also been changes to the funeral feasts. Edijs Orlovskis, representative of a catering company, said that not only has there been a reduction in demand for funeral feasts due to the pandemic, but that the traditional way to organize them has also changed.

“First of all, there are not as many of these [feasts] as there were before, say, ten years ago, but in principle the concept of funeral feasts has now changed. [..] The concept is more of a stand-up catering near the burial site [..] with snacks and no entrees,” said Orlovskis.

The costs of burial services also grow due to the global inflation, but people are understanding and willing to pay more, according to the experts.

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