Baltic Midsummer Feast Draws on a Distant Past
“Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians around the world are set to celebrate midsummer festivals Monday night with rites drawing deeply on pagan traditions of the Baltic people. “Marking the two longest days of the year, the celebration is called Jani
in Latvia, Jaanipaev in Estonia, and Saint Jonas festival in Lithuania.
Christianity adopted the sun-worship holiday as the one dedicated to John the Baptist, but centuries later, pagan traditions still remain an integral part of the celebration. On June 23, Latvians crowned with wreaths of oak leaves flock to the countryside. Regarded as a holy tree in pagan times, the oak still features widely in Latvian folk songs. As the evening draws in, Latvians and Estonians light bonfires and sing folk songs or jump through the flames, seen as a way to guarantee prosperity. The white sandy beaches of the Gulf of Riga light up with bonfires as Latvians and Estonians flee cities to nature.”