Celebrating Midsummer’s Night in Latvia

If you live in the Northern hemisphere you might have noticed that the sun sets very late and that the nights have become unusually light. It is because we have just experienced the summer solstice – the shortest night of the year. As it happens, this is the time of year when I am often visited by feelings of homesickness. You see, back in my native Latvia midsummer is the biggest celebration of the year. Yes you read that right, summer solstice is more widely celebrated than Christmas.

Formally the midsummer fest is called “Jāņi” which is Latvian for St. John’s day: a Catholic celebration that takes place on the 24th June. But do not let the name fool you, this day – or, more precisely, night – is anything but religious. Oh no, the celebrations that take place on the night from the 23rd to the 24th of June are much closer to ancient pagan traditions than church rituals.

According to tradition, the shortest night of the year must be spent by staying awake. In fact, if you do go to sleep before the sunrise, it is believed that you will sleep for the rest of the summer. So people spend the night by lighting bonfires, singing and dancing, eating and drinking.

Jāņi is also a celebration of fertility and thus filled with some curious superstitions. For example, if you wish to have strength, endurance, and beauty in the upcoming year, you should bath naked in the morning dew after the sunrise on the solstice night. Or, if you are more adventurous, it is believed that ferns blossom on the shortest night of the year and finding a fern flower will fulfill all your wishes!

midsummer
Photo credit: Dace Kirspile

One of the most beautiful midsummer traditions is making and wearing wreaths from wildflowers. The usual choice for girls’s flower crowns are daisies, cornflowers, and clover. But, as the saying goes, everything that grows on midsummer can be used! (in Latvian: visa laba Jāņu zāle) In turn, men can wear crowns made from oak leaves. To make it even more fun, at the end of the midsummer celebrations the wildflower wreath can be used for some fortunetelling.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the majority of the methods are for determining who and when you will marry. For example, choose a tree and throw your wreath – the number of times that it takes for the wreath to catch on a branch stands for the number of years until you will marry. But be warned: do not take the result too seriously. If you are as bad at throwing (and/or at making sturdy wildflower wreaths…) as I am, your wreath may fall apart before it catches a branch. And yet I got married only three years later 🙂

Making a flower wreath is easier than you might think. If you want to give it a try here’s how:

 


This post is a part of the Around the World in 30 Days series that every day during the month of June explores a new country, teaching some culture and geography along the way.

Around The World In 30 Days


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