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Jāņi celebration in Vidzeme.

Jāņi ([jɑːɲi]) is a Latvian anniversary festival, which celebrates the summer solstice, the day when it has the shortest night and the longest day. Although the shortest night is usually on 21st or 22 June, the public holiday - Līgo Day and Jāņi Day is on 23rd and 24 June. The day before Jāņi was formerly known as Zāļu diena, which is now known as Līgo Day.

On Jāņi Eve people went to gather flowers, from which women made wreaths and put on their heads. Men's wreaths are usually made of oak leaves. Līgo songs are associated with fertility and disaster prevention.[1]


The name "Līgosvētki" was first used and introduced in 1900 in his Jāņi songs collection by Emilis Melngailis, who back in 1928 wrote in the newspaper "Jaunākās Ziņas":

By issuing my first collection, which included only Jāņi songs, I (Melngailis), on a new day – 1900 – following the spoken language, that Jānis is not Latvian, I had invented a new word Līgosvētki, which for some time suppressed the real ancient word: Jāņa diena, Jāņanakti; since silliness has often landed a place of honor, end of the table, at least for a short time."


Jāņi Eve by Muižeļa Manor in 1793 (Brotze).

Picking Herbs of Jāņi, house and fence decoration[edit]

Almost all herbaceous plants belonged to Herbs of Jāņi, but in particular people collected bedstraw, cow wheat, vetchling, clover, etc. They embellished rooms, courtyards, yards, they also were wreathed into wreaths. Among trees, the most used decorations were birch boughs and oak branches. Houses were never decorated with aspen and alder branches: they were considered to be evil trees.[2] Some Herbs of Jāņi were reaped on noon, others on Jāņi Eve, or on Jāņi morning when it had dew. In 1627, P. Einhorn wrote:

Jāņi Day is given the power and sanctity of the herbs and its daily gathering, and has great and excellent properties against fires, people's and livestock's evil plagues and diseases

— Paul Einhorn. "Idolatry and superstition refutation"[3]

The gates and every doors were tied with rowan, oak or birch boughs. Both in the rooms, the barn and the garner, boughs were placed and behinds of ceiling joists were occluded with broken oak, rowan and linden branches. To repel evil spirits and witches, people used thorns, thistles and nettles. Herbs of Jāņi were subsequently dried up and during winter or spring were given to cows shortly after calving. On Zāļu diena, the picked herbs were used to make a tea and were given to sick people and livestock. On Jāņi, picked rowan twigs were tied into dusters, dried and were used for child's fumigation, when it was sick, afraid, or afflicted by an evil eye.

Jāņi wreath wreathing[edit]

Circular wreath, as well as Jāņi cheese and Fire of Jāņi symbolized the sun. To make a wreath a variety of flowers and oak leaves are used. It is believed, that wreaths braided with twenty seven flowers and herbs prevents disasters and diseases, and repels envious people and foes. Oak wreaths were given to boys and the landlord, as they promised the blessing of horses and bees.

Burning Fire of Jāņi[edit]

Burning Fire of Jāņi (also known as pūdeļa, pundeļa, Jāņi candles, and witch burning) from sunset till next morning is related to the beliefs of the light transmission to the next solar year. Fire must be burning at the territory's highest point, a tar barrel or a tarred wheel pole can also be used instead. Fire of Jāņi shines on fields and people are believed to acquire power and fertility.

Singing songs[edit]

Singing Līgo songs or Jāņi songs is associated with fertility promotion and disaster prevention. The time of singing Ligo songs began two weeks before Jāņi, reached its highest point on Jāņi Eve and lasted until Peter or Māras Day. After that they could no longer sing Līgo songs.[4] Singing Ligo songs on Jāņi night began after dinner and continued throughout the night until the sun rises, either during jumping over Fire of Jāņi, or while going from houses to houses. Singing visits on Jāņi were called aplīgošana, servants were making such visits to their masters and owners, while maidens did it to guys and vice versa.

On Jāņi Day people drank beer and ate cheese, believing that it would help next summer to grow barley and make cows give more milk. Also, singing visitors from neighboring houses were treated with both cheese and beer.

Jāņi Night's spells[edit]

There is a belief that on Jāņi morning, milk witches were running on dew and shouted: "Everything to me, everything to me!" If anyone heard it, they must respond with: "I butchered half of them!" Then there would be no shortage of milk.[5] Witches dressed in white robes and let their hair loose on Jāņi, to make them look like normal women, so they could carry out spells in neighboring fields and livestock feedlot, belonging to those whom they wanted to damage and take away blessing.

Search for fern flower[edit]

It was believed that whoever finds a fern flower were able to gain wealth and happiness, and find out the secrets of the past and future. "Whoever acquires the fern flower will be happy, because it can make anything they want to come true. The flower is hindered by evil spirits and only a brave person can get it".[6] "On Jāņi Night, jump 8 times around 8 while on a broom handle, which is hoisted from a ground. During this time do not talk and do not laugh. Once you have done so, then hop on the broom shaft astride to the nearest fern patch, but only on your own, then you will see the blossoming of a fern flower".[7]

Jāņi Night's broad-mindedness[edit]

Women and young maidens made wreaths on the heads and all sang together, danced, and went to play roundelays. It is believed, that erotic activities can have positive impact on the creation of power.


Herbal Eve at the Daugavmalas in 18th century.
Herbs and wreath traders at the Daugavmalas market in 1920.

John the Baptist Day celebration during the summer solstice time was known throughout the Christian world. Since 1584, Balthasar Russow wrote in his Chronicle of Livonia, that "All over the great land by Fire of Jāņi happened a great joyous dancing, singing and jumping". It is known, that at that time Riga's fishermen, mast selectors and ferries each year after solstice drove boats to Pārdaugava or to some islands in the Daugava, where, together with families and guests burned ruddy, rejoicing until the morning dawn.

When in 1759 Johann Steinhauer, a rich Latvian mast selector, bought part of Zasumuiža, it began a Herbal Eve celebration tradition. Later, the celebration was moved to Hermeliņa Manor, then on the right bank of the Daugava by the castle. Around 1790, a tradition to hold festive fireworks on Daugava was introduced. In 1820, the Riga's Council ordered to transfer Daugavmalas Herbal Market to Šāļu Gate at the end of Svērtuves Street. In 1832, a Latvian weekly newspaper "Tas Latviešu Ļaužu Draugs" gave the following description of the holiday:

These two days of Jāņi for us, city dwellers, are annual real fun days. On first day's eve a large flower market opens at the edge of the Daugava. Then farmers, who were living in the vicinity, brought flowers, wreaths and various herbs, gardeners brought back their most nicest and most expensive goods, and the townsfolk came and bought – either wreaths for children's joy, or flowers for whichever loved one as a gift, or foals, or mint and other such herbs, that help against various diseases. Others come, wanting to see a large crowd, play gambling, and walk until it becomes dark.

After the establishment of Latvian Republic, the celebration of Zāļu diena turned into a popular holiday. It was proposed, that 22nd, 23rd and 24 June should be recognized as national holidays, on 22 June celebrating Heroes Day (remembering the victory in Battle of Cēsis), Zāļu diena on 23 June, while Jāņi Day on 24 June.[8]

Similar festive celebration traditions worldwide[edit]

Jāņi bonfire installation in Brazil.

Celebration of summer solstice is an ancient tradition of European people, it was especially preserved in Northern Europeans countries - Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Finland, Sweden, but also in Canada (especially in Quebec), Ireland and in some parts of United Kingdom (Cornwall) and USA. Ancient solstice festive remnants are also found in some Belorussian, Ukrainian, Polish, French, Italian, Maltese, Portuguese and Spanish folk traditions.

Names in other Baltic Sea Countries[edit]

  • Denmark - Sankthans
  • Estonia - Jaanipäev
  • Lithuania - Joninės, Rasos, Rasa, Rasos šventė, Kupolės, Saulės, Krešės, Vidurvasaris
  • Norway - Jonsok, sankthans, jonsvaka, jonsmesse
  • Finland - Juhannus
  • Germany - Johanni, Johannisnacht, Mittsommernacht
  • Sweden - Midsommar (also known as Den helige Johannes Döparens dag)

Names in Slavic speaking countries[edit]

Wreath wreathing and Kupala bathing during a festival time (V. Gerson painting, 1897).

In some Slavic languages, solstice festive celebration traditions remained to be called after pagan god's name - Kupala (Купало, Купа́йло):

Names in Romance speaking countries[edit]

Basque Country[edit]


  • Oswald Lideks (1940). Latvian holiday. Riga.
  • Peter Schmidt (1940-1941). Latvian folk beliefs. Riga.
  • Edith Olupe (1992). Latvian seasonal festivities. Riga.
  • Latvian folk songs Vol. IV Riga, 1982.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Jāņi, Jāņi is now here!
  2. ^ B. Riekstiņš, "Recreation" 1932, 17. VI, 22.
  3. ^ Paul Einhorn. "Idolatry and superstition refutation", 1627. Quoted from: Peter Schmidt. Latvian folk beliefs. Riga, 1940-1941.
  4. ^ D. Ozolins, Jaunroze. From: Peter Schmidt. Latvian folk beliefs. Riga, 1940-1941.
  5. ^ A. Zalite, Bērzpils. From: Peter Schmidt. Latvian folk beliefs. Riga, 1940-1941.
  6. ^ B. Riekstiņš, "Recreation", 1932, 17. VI, 22.
  7. ^ L. Aizupe, Irlava. From: Peter Schmidt. Latvian folk beliefs. Riga, 1940-1941.
  8. ^ Anita Bormane (22 June 2012). "First "līgo" cry sounds in Riga!". Latvijas Avīze (in Latvian). Retrieved 26 June 2015.