Midsummer Night in Riga - National holidays
A great feast, song and dance, the shortest night of the year spent in front of a bonfire, mystical rituals and even a bit of romance – this is what makes the Līgo celebration or Jāņi. Jāņi is celebrated on the summer solstice on 23 and 24 June. This pagan-like holiday is almost more popular in Latvia than New Year's Eve and Christmas.
The summer solstice has little to do with the birthday of St. John as celebrated on 24 June by the Roman Catholic Church. The Jāņi celebrated today is a living ancient pagan tradition. For others, the holiday is like a meditation based on the beliefs and actions of their ancestors. For others it's a way to cleanse the soul and body with song and with a visit to the bathhouse – and for others still it's a time to dance, eat, drink and be merry.
According to ancient tradition, the shortest night of the year must be spent by staying awake all night by the glow of the bonfire. The time is spent singing songs and enjoying traditional Līgo foods like cheese with caraway seeds and beer. The belief is that those who go to sleep before sunrise on Jāņi will be sleepy all summer long. Bonfires aren't confined to hilltops – a pūdelis, or a pitched barrel filled with firewood, is lit and raised up on a post. The farther the light from the pūdelis reaches, the farther the sacredness and protection of this magical night reaches, too. Women and girls wear a crown of flowers on their heads on Jāņi, while men wear a crown of oak leaves. Rooms and doors are decorated with birch boughs, shed and barn doors are decorated with rowan branches and rooms are scented by sweet flag. Many 23 June revelers get dressed in their traditional folk costumes and experience this holiday rich in tradition and rituals as if the mystery surrounding it gives them strength.
Līgo! festivities on the 11th November Embankment in Riga - A large-scale celebration will take place in Olde Riga, by the Daugava River, on June 23rd.
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