A Latvian girl creating a flower crown during the midsummer festival
|Also called||Zāļu diena|
|Significance||Celebration of summer solstice|
|Observances||staying up all night, making bonfires, jumping over bonfires, singing, dancing, eating cheese, drinking beer|
Jāņi (pronounced [jaːɲi]) is a Latvian festival held to celebrate the summer solstice (Midsummer), the shortest night and longest day of the year. The day of Līgo ([liːɡu͡o]) and the day of Jāņi are official public holidays and people usually spend them in the countryside. The festival's eve Jāņu vakars ([jaːɲu vakars]) is held in the evening and goes on all through the night Jāņu nakts ([jaːɲu nakts]), where people Līgo (sway) into the following day.
Jānis is traditionally the most common male name. Everybody of the name Jānis holds a special honor on this day (Jāņi is a plural form of Jānis). Besides John, the name of Jānis is also etymologically linked with other names of various nations, such as Aeneas, Dionysus, Jonash, Jan, Jean, Johan, João, Ian, Ivan, Juan, and Han.
Jāņi is an ancient fertility festival originally celebrated in honour of a Latvian pagan deity Jānis, who is mentioned in Latvian folksongs of antiquity. In modern times the festival is celebrated on 23 June / 24 June, rather than on the astronomical summer solstice, which takes place on 21 June, due to the Christianisation, which led to the holiday being celebrated as Saint John the Baptist's feast day, which falls on 24 June. Today, Jāņi celebrations often integrate the ancient folk traditions along with some Christian elements.
Jāņi is thought to be the time when the forces of nature are at their most powerful, and the boundaries between the physical and spiritual worlds are thinnest. In the past, homes, trees and fences were decorated with rowan branches and thorns in order to protect those within from evil spirits (after Christianisation they came to be called witches) that were believed to be riding around. In modern days these traditional decorations remain popular, including birch or sometimes oak branches and flowers as well as leaves, especially ferns; in rural areas livestock is also decorated. Participants each make and wear wreaths; oak leaf wreaths for men and boys whilst women wear wreaths made from wildflowers. The skill of construction is of particularly importance due to the vigorous dancing, fire jumping and other activities; while choice of flowers can be a social activity done with great care, becoming the subject of much commentary and debate amongst the women folk.
Jāņi also is thought to be the perfect time to gather herbs, because it is believed that they have increased effect or magical powers if harvested on this day. Other practices of mysticism in Jāņi vary from fortune-telling, rituals to ensure productivity of crops or livestock and virility and fertility of the participants. A well-known part of this celebration is the search for the mythical fern flower, though some suggest that at one time the fern flower was a symbol of secret knowledge; today it is almost always synonymous with having sexual relations. Young couples traditionally wander away from the main bonfire in search of the flower.
Another important aspect is the role of fire: The Festival Bonfires carries a sacred duty in that it must be tended and kept aflame from sunset till sunrise (ostensibly to ensure the rising of the sun, see also Latvian Song Festival), and which is traditionally used as right of passage for young people who compete and challenge one another to jump over it to prove masculinity and courage; success is said to ensure prosperity and fertility. Various other kinds of flaming light sources are used, for example large celebrations may use bonfires atop log poles that are ceremonially set alight by flaming arrow, a task greatly sought after by younger unmarried men and boys as a show of skill. Traditional foods for Jāņi include a special type of caraway seed cheese made from curd, which many Latvians still makes themselves and the traditional drink is beer, although few now make their own beer.
Representatives of Latvian emergency services warn that overindulgence and recklessness during Jāņi can be harmful to health citing both the large amount of alcoholic beverages consumed and related high rate of drinking and driving incidents (higher on this day than of any other of the year), as well as accidents and injuries related to maltreated fires.
- Bonfires of Saint John
- Saint Jonas' Festival
- Latvian mythology
- Fern flower
- St John's Day (Estonia) (Jaaniõhtu, Jaanilaupäev, Jaanipäev)
- Mellēna, Māra (2000), Latvian Seasonal Holidays, The Latvian Institute, retrieved October 4, 2013
- "Events & Festivals, Holiday in Latvia". Retrieved 2011-04-28.
- "The Death of the Latvian Jānis (Yahnis)". Retrieved 2008-11-15.[dead link]
- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, published by Lonely Planet, 2009. pg. 182 ISBN 1741047706