Riga

Midsummer's Eve

01 Jun 2017

What began as an important religious fertility festival has slowly evolved into a secular beer bash. To ancient Latvians Midsummer’s Eve, or Līgo & Jāņi, marked the longest day of the year when light both symbolic and literal was at its most potent. The old pagans celebrated with singing, dancing and large quantities of beer. Huge bonfires were set alight and as they eventually died down, revellers would jump over the flames for good luck. While the older generation was getting their load on, young lovers would take to the forests in search of the mythical fern blossom which only blooms on Midsummer’s Eve or so the story goes. Even now, people born in March (roughly nine months later) are often referred to as Jāņu bērni or the children of Jāņi. Participants are also expected to stay awake until sunrise, so get plenty of rest before the event as napping or retiring early are definitely frowned upon.

Today the festival is Latvia’s favourite holiday. Part ethnographic concert, part barbecue, part hedonistic drinking marathon, it’s celebrated throughout the countryside and many June conversations in Riga revolve around the question of where to spend the holiday, because locals wouldn’t dream of being trapped in the city for Midsummer’s Eve. Although each Latvian family celebrates it a little differently, a modern Latvian Midsummer consists of good friends, music, singing, truckloads of beer, caraway seed cheese, bonfires and several kilos of grilled meat enjoyed as far away from civilisation as possible.

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