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Jānis day celebrations
Do not miss the most Latvian holidays of all – Jani or "Liigo!", the night from June 23 to June 24 (in harmony with the summer solstice), when people participate in joyous festivities, just as their ancestors did centuries ago. On the longest day and shortest night of the year, Latvians make garlands, drink beer, eat caraway cheese, sing, dance, and go to sauna, all up until dawn!
If you observe around noon on June 23, a lot of hectic activity happening everywhere and cars (many decorated with greenery) leaving town in droves, you may be certain that it is the Latvians preparing to celebrate Jani, the “most Latvian festival” of the year, which entails a great variety of fun rituals. You can be sure that the hottest topic all week long was where and how one would celebrate.
Skipping this holiday is simply out of the question.
Jani was originally a festival for pagan farmers that existed long before the arrival of Christianity, and the traditions of the festival are immensely popular to this day. Jani is ideally celebrated in nature, making garlands of oak leaves or wild flowers, going to sauna, and drinking good beer with caraway cheese – best if homemade. The entire proceedings are serenaded by a sing-along - the enchanting Jani folk songs with the “Liigo!” refrain.
Latvians often say “it’s raining as if it were Jani”, as the weather on Jani night is usually not the most pleasant. This, however, is never an obstacle for the merrymaking. Be it a sunshiny day, or raining cats and dogs, Latvians always celebrate at their rural homesteads, or go to an open-air ball to dance, sing, and feel the celebration.
Places to experience Jani in Latvia
Those who like to stay in the capital city have a special festive programme prepared for them every year, with the celebration, with a modern twist, taking place on 11. novembra krastmala Street along the Daugava River in Old Town, as well as the more traditional celebration at Pardaugava-Dzeguzkalns.
One can buy everything he or she needs for a proper celebration at the annual Herbal Market on Dome Square, where vendors sell not only the traditional attributes for Jani festivities – garlands, oak-leaf or flower crowns, special herbs of Jani, but also products from Latvian farms for the buffet (note that plenty of food is a must, as the celebration lasts all day and all night, and into June 24, Janis Day).
The shortest night of the year is also marked according to centuries-old traditions at Turaida Museum Reserve and Pedvale Open Air Museum. Bear in mind – celebrating Jani takes patience - first of all, positively no sleeping until dawn! Washing oneself with the morning dew is another key activity.
Jani beliefs and traditions
Herbs plucked on the summer solstice are believed to have healing powers. For the Jani festival, rooms in a home 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.
One of the hallmarks of Jani is leaping over the bonfire, which rids one from "everything unnecessary." Couples leap holding hands, so that the magical force of the flames binds them together.
They say Jani night is the only time of the year when one can see the mysterious blossoming fern. No one ever has, but this is considered an excuse for couples to sneak away to some quieter spot.
One must not go to sleep on Jani night - only after seeing the sunrise. At dawn, one should walk through the morning dew – this brings money. Women, on the other hand, wash their faces in dew, which ensures beauty.