I’ve been told that these days in Latvia, Jāņi is a five day-long celebration: one day of preparations, Līgo vakars, Jāņi, a day of work and a day to recooperate… Here in the Upstate I’m tempted to call it a 10-day-long fest, as we included the strawberry-full moon summer solstice and two weekends into our celebration!
|The Jāņu mielasts includes plenty of pīrāgi!|
It started last weekend, when the festivities started in multiple cities and areas, including one of the larger svinības in Gaŗezers (which we attended two years ago). We līgo līgo-d right along, admiring the beautiful flower crowns, giant bonfires and tall pūdeles (the midsummer night fire on a raised pole) of friends across the world.
Then came the summer solstice, the shortest night of the year and the first day of summer. June’s full moon fell on the eve of the solstice for the first time since 1948. The so-called “strawberry moon" may have gotten its name from Native American tribes because strawberry season is at its peak in June, but when the moon is close to the horizon it does take on a reddish tint (in Europe the June full moon is sometimes known as the rose moon). We wandered to the end of the block to see the moon rise, and were rewarded with a glimpse of an owl on the hunt in the solstice twilight.
Līgo evening and Jāņi are celebrated on June 23rd and 24th respectively, the names days for Līga and Jānis. Since the solstice falls on different days on different years, Latvians will celebrate midsummer’s night on Jāņi. But on those years that Jāņi fall on a weekday, we often celebrate the weekend before or after, as was the case this year. This can be confusing – another reason to extend the celebration all week…
|Jāņu siers and rasols|
Līgo vakars was unbearably hot, and we used the excuse of making Jāņu siers to stay indoors that morning. The traditional Latvian cheese needs a day to compress, and so it’s smart to make it a few days in advance of the fête.
Jāņi day was a loooong day… One of the educational groups we participate in here in the Upstate travels to a different country every month, and it just so happened Friday was Tanzania at our house. The boys had an excuse to wear their dashikis, my mom got in her art-education fix, and the kids all went home with hand-stamped khanga cloth and Serengeti sunsets. Not your average Jāņi, that’s for sure! The highlight of the day was the return of Roberts from his month-long work trip – it’s good to have dad back, and just in time for the big Jāņi celebration!
This year our lovely Jāņu māte and Jāņu tēvs were Inta and Leonard in Charlotte, NC. We spent the morning in hurried preparations for the feast: vecmamma Inga baking pīrāgi while we harvested oak branches and Jāņu zāles, ironed our tautas tērpi and finally crafted our flower and oak leaf vainagi (crowns). Finally it was time to head north to celebrate.
The evening passed in a flash of delicious food, good company, folk songs and bonfire. We burned our vainagi from last Jāņi on a fire started with a birch bluķis from Estonia. We drank beer from Latvian ceramic mugs. We ate too many pīrāgi and pieces of Jāņu siers to count. The kids ran free, sugar fueling their energy and glow sticks marking their location. And although there was less dancing than in previous years due to the heat, the songs kept coming until the chorus of projām jāiet, projām jāiet, es nevaru šeit palikt (it’s time to leave, I can’t stay here) rang out sometime after midnight.
As we put away our tautas tērpi and accompanying brooches and accessories, washed the dishes from the previous day’s preparations, stored away our Jāņu vainagi for burning in next year’s bonfire and finally sorted through the dozens of pictures, I drifted off in memories of dozens of Jāņi past… Our celebration of this most popular of Latvian holidays has brought us to dozens of places in the last couple of decades, introducing us to new people and places but also bringing us back to the family, friends and places that define us; this annual tradition has contributed in shaping our family traditions just as surely as our Latvian roots. As children, the short nights seemed endless – and I saw this reflected in the eyes of my boys last night as they ran free long after their usual bedtime. But although the fatigue catches up with me faster now that we are adults, Jāņu nakts is still the one night that sleep is elusive…
Kur saulīte rotājās!
Kur saulīte rotājās!