Midsummer’s Eve: A Latvian Tradition!

Latvian Tradition

Midsummer’s Eve: A Latvian Tradition!

If you’re lucky enough to be in Riga this summer, don’t miss Latvia’s most popular holiday next week — Midsummer’s Eve!

Midsummer’s Eve, or Jāņi in Latvian, has its origins in an ancient pagan tradition which commemorated the summer solstice, the shortest night of the year. Nowadays, the holiday is celebrated on June 23 and 24 (next Tuesday and Wednesday). Here are some of the traditions associated with this important national event.

Wreaths
Traditionally, all participants in the festival wear wreaths on their heads. Men’s wreaths are made of oak leaves, while women’s are made of flowers. Traditional local dress is often worn as well.

Bonfire
Participants in this festival stay up all night around a burning fire. This is connected to the idea that light should be transferred from one solar year to the next. Traditionally, people jump across the burning fire as it dies down for good luck.

Songs
The songs of Jāņi contain the refrain “Līgo” and are associated with fertility, like the original pagan festivities. They are sung throughout the night. In the countryside, people go from house to house singing these songs.

Cheese and beer
Jāņis cheese is made of fresh milk and cream, and is seasoned with caraway seeds. Since it symbolizes the sun, eating a piece represents taking strength from the sun. Local beer is the traditional drink. It was believed that this food and drink would help families to grow more barley and for their cows to give more milk the next summer.

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Fern blossoms
There is a myth that the fern blossom only blooms on Midsummer’s Eve. Participants go off into the forest during the night in order to search for these blossoms alone. If they do find them, they are believed to have a spiritual revelation. (Young lovers also search for these blossoms together!)

Midsummer’s Eve will be celebrated all across the Latvian countryside, though you can also take part in Old Riga. There will be a fair in Riga on June 19 to stock up on traditional items such as flower wreaths. Starting in the evening on June 23 until sunrise, there will be live music with local artists and traditional food and drinks on the 11th November Embankment in the city center.

Enjoy the festivities!

This post was brought to you by Amy, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz

(Photo credits: Creative Commons)

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