All over Europe, the ancient pagan midsummer celebrations continue to take place. In Latvia, St. John’s Day (Jāņi), or Līgo may be the most important celebration of the year. It runs overnight from June 23rd to the 24th.
If they can, Latvians take to the woods, fields and beaches to celebrate by staying up till the next morning. A nation of introverts gathers into parties of all sizes.
Everything about Jāņi celebrates the bounty of nature, fertility and the relationship of human beings with the natural world. Buildings and fences are garlanded with greenery. People wear wreaths made of leaves, grasses and flowers. There’s special food, especially caraway cheese, and lots of beer. Bonfires are built to light the night and couples may wander off to be on their own. Or, they may chance a leap over the fire to increase their good luck.
Ancient tribal rituals have melded with modern gatherings. Latvian identity, alive with symbolism, is preserved with folksongs and amazing mass song celebrations.
I grew up in a small town on Vancouver Island where my family were the only Latvians. We lived on a small acreage and my mother would go out to the field and make garlands for us. We kids barely understood the significance for her. Still, something of her emotions stayed with us because each year we honour the tradition in our own way.
Here is a lighthearted look at this lovely Latvian tradition. You might learn some Latvian words!