The harvest festival is actually an ancient tradition that extends back to pagan times before Christianity was thrust upon the local population in the 13th century. The Latvians of old celebrated the autumnal equinox known as Miķeļi when night and day are of the same length signalling the end of summer and the coming of winter or the season of spirits when the souls of the dead returned to this world to check on their progeny. All crops had to be harvested by Miķeļi and the fields had to be prepared for the long winter ahead. The celebrations were among the happiest of the year as the summer harvest provided a bountiful feast for all participants.
Although it was believed for many years that the name Miķelis was adopted from the name Michael of the Christian tradition, many folk songs mention Miķelis as one of the many sons of the ancient Latvian god. The lesser god Jumis was also a key player in the festivities as he was closely related to the harvest and believed to live in all crops. In short, there were three things that had to be done: a feast was held in honour of Miķelis, the harvest was finished to please Jumis and local markets were held throughout the countryside. Today’s Miķeļdienas tirgus is the continuation of these ancient traditions so embrace your inner pagan and have fun at the market this year.