Summer solstice celebrations in Latvia

  • Jāņi is an annual Latvian festival celebrating the summer solstice. Although the solstice usually falls on 21 or 22 June, the public holidays—Līgo Day and Jāņi Day - are on 23 and 24 June. Jāņi was originally a festival for pagan farmers that existed long before the arrival of Christianity and the traditions of the festival remain immensely popular to this day.

    I love this time of the year when you can visit herbal markets to buy some wild flowers or wreaths made of them, to listen traditional songs at multiple concerts all over Latvia, to learn how to celebrate summer solstice traditionally, or to take part in many other similar activities. That's why I made a series of images briefly based on some of Jāņi traditions.

  • In honour of Jāņi, homes are decorated with birch, oak and rowan branches, ferns, oxeye daisies and bents. Nettles and thistles can be attached to the door-frame to keep evil spirits out. Women weave wildflower wreaths to decorate themselves.
  • Circular wreaths made of flowers, grasses and oak leaves are woven and worn on the head. Different types of plants are used to make wreaths for males and females. Women and girls wear wreaths made from flowers, grasses and herbs. It is believed that wreaths braided with twenty seven flowers and herbs prevents disasters and diseases, and repels enemies. Men and boys wear wreaths made of oak leaves, symbolising the physical strength of the oak tree. Oak wreaths were also thought to promise the blessing of horses and bees. Together with Jāņi cheese and fires, wreaths are also symbols of the sun. (Peonies actually weren't  flowers that were traditionally used to make wreaths. However, for me smell of peonies is the true smell of June, that's why this illustration turned out like this).
  • Wild flowers and herbs picked on the summer solstice are believed to have healing powers. Meadowsweet, birch leaves, linden flowers, mayweed, clover, peppermint, marigold, wild thyme, cowslip and many others are dried and mixed together in different combinations to create healthy and delicious herbal teas.
  • Nights are short in June. Around summer solstice the sun sets down at ~ 10.20 PM and rise at ~ 4.30AM, so the period of the complete darkness is really short and it stays pretty bright all night long here in Latvia
  • Sing and dance to celebrate the shortest night of the year
  • Fire of all shapes and sizes is one of the most important elements of celebration
  • One must not sleep on Jāņi night! Sleeping is only allowed after sunrise. At dawn, one should walk through the morning dew – this brings money. And those who wash their face in the dew are guaranteed beauty.
  • As always, some sketches
  • Sources: