The story of a thousand year old Latvian mitten 

 A short history

MittenLatvia is famous for the fact that the oldest mittens have been found here by archaeologists. They are estimated to be approximately ten centuries old. The tradition of knitting mittens stems from the cold weather of Northern Europe; although it is worth mentioning that centuries ago mittens played a decorative role as well. By fastening them behind the waistband, they were worn in summer as a bijouterie and adornment. For several centuries they were the main form of gift and endowed with magical significance.

Nowadays Latvian mittens, so diverse in their colours and patterns are still an essential part of our winter clothing. Although there is always the possibility to wear synthetic gloves, the originality, tradition, warmth and sense of Latvia that is knitted into a mitten will be always worth a compliment.


To fit together like a hand and a glove – mitten traditions at weddings 

Mittens are a very important part of several Latvian traditions. Probably the most popular role played by mittens is at a wedding.

Tradition says that before an unmarried girl entered into marriage she had to fill a hope chest. Mittens were an important part of the chest. The most lavish chests contained several hundred pairs of hand made mittens. They were given as gifts. Early tradition calls this giving process dedicating or devoting. The mittens were given to the mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, and other people involved in organising the wedding. They were dedicated to cows, sheep, and horses and left in places where the newly-weds were going to live. The most exiting fact is that every mitten had to be knitted in a different design using different patterns; otherwise the maids were laughed at. This could not have been done if not for the rich and diverse Latvian ethnographical culture. The symbolism within the mittens 

Every mitten has its own story, as every pattern knitted has its own meaning and brings with it its own wish. Most of these patterns have been derived from the Latvian tradition of deities and gods. Every deity and god had its own tasks and mission and it was represented by one or more symbols that characterised it.

The symbolism within the mittens

Every mitten has its own story, as every pattern knitted has its own meaning and brings with it its own wish. Most of these patterns have been derived from the Latvian tradition of deities and gods. Every deity and god had its own tasks and mission and it was represented by one or more symbols that characterised it.


Jumis - (from root jum- roof-) was the god of sky and fertility, symbolising also the germ of life and mysteriousness. He is associated with „double-plants,” such as two corn stalks or trees which have grown together and share a trunk or stem. During harvesting, some stalks of the crops are bent to the ground and secured in that location with stones. He is depicted as a short man with clothes that resemble ears of wheat, hops and barley.




Zalktis - was the god of well-being and fertility, about whom little is known. He was associated with snakes.




Krusts – (the Cross) the oldest ornamentation in all cultures. It guards, blesses and brings happiness.




Saule - (The Sun) was the goddess of the sun and fertility, patron goddess of the unlucky, including orphans. She was the mother of the daughters of the sun and lived on top of a mountain and flew across the sky on her chariot. At night, she sailed across the sea. She is a beloved Baltic Sun Goddess sometimes recognised as a red apple, setting in the west. Saule is reborn as her daughter, the morning star at the Winter Solstice.


Mēness -
(Moon) was the god of the moon and war. He was one of the suitors of the Saules meitas (the Suns daughters). Mēness counted the stars and determined that Auseklis was missing, and stole Auseklis' bride. He was usually a rival of Saule, the sun, his wife who sheared him into pieces after discovering his adultery. Alternative names include Mehness, Meness, and Mėnulis in Lithuanian mythology.


LaimaLaima - (Luck) was the personification of fate and of luck, both good and bad. She was associated with childbirth, marriage, death, prolificacy, and domesticity. She was also the patron of pregnant women.


MāraMāra - (Mary) is the highest-ranking goddess, a female  Dievs (God). She may be thought of as the alternate side of Dievs (like in Yin Yang). Other Latvian goddesses, sometimes all of them, are considered her alternate aspects.


Auseklis - (from root aust- dawn-) also called Lielais Auseklis ("great Auseklis"). He was associated with Venus, and with both Meness and Saule, the moon and the sun. He is the symbol of the morning star, the usher of the new day.




Ūsiņš - was the god of horses, bees and light, mentioned by Jesuit Joannis Stribingius in 1606. His symbol indicates a sun-carriage. He took care of horses during the summer, then transferred the power to Mārtiņš at the festival of Mārtiņi.




Dievs - (god) was the supreme god. The same word refers to the Christian deity in modern Latvian. In ancient Latvian mythology, Dievs was not just the father of the gods, he was the essence of them all. Every other deity was a different aspect or manifestation of Dievs; this is most true with Māra and Laima. The name Dievs was also interpreted as Sky. Though he courted Saule, no actual wife is known. His sons are known as Dieva deli (Sons of God). He is historically the same god of Indo-European religion as Tyr, Zeus, Jupiter and Dyaus Pita.



Jānis - (or Jahnis) was a deity associated with Jāņi, the Midsummer's Night festival. After Christianization, he was associated with John the Baptist, through a process of syncretism. Once every  year, Jānis at midsummer came to bring luck and fertility to the people of Latvia. In modern Latvia, it is very popular name for males.



Latvian Education Information System, “Ritms un simetrija Latviešu cimdu rakstos”, http://www.liis.lv/cimdi/frame1.htm

World Federation of Free Latvians, “Latviešu ornamentu pamatelementi un to nozīme (simboli)”, http://www.pbla.lv/izglitiba/ornamenti.htm


Ojārs Kalnins

"NATO couldn’t have picked a more favorable setting than Riga for a Summit on
transformation, modernization and open doors. All three are already a part
of Latvia’s success story."
- Ojārs Kalnins,
Latvian Institute Director, Former Latvia's Ambassador to the U.S.