The change of seasons always had profound sacral meaning for people who lived on Latvian soil in the remote past. Traditional all-nighter celebrations of summer solstice – Jāņi* – were held on the night of June 21, with bonfires, songs, dances and rituals dedicated to the sun, fertility and well-being.
Catholic Church, striving to strengthen its influence among pagans, had declared June 24 as the birthday of John the Baptist (Jānis Kristītājs in Latvian) and that’s how mass celebration of summer solstice shifted to the night of June 23.
However increasingly more people tend to go back to their roots, lighting fires on the night of June 21. One of the greatest events this year took place on Jāņu Hill in Turaida, in an entourage of grasslands and scenic hilly landscape. Held by a folklore organisation Māras Loks (Ring of Mara, ancient Latvian goddess), Danču Klubs (Folk Dance Club) and folklore groups from different parts of Latvia they invited everyone to join them for a traditional seasonal feast.
… As the shortest night of the year approaches, participants are taken through rituals that were known to their ancestry centuries ago. Rejoined around the bonfire people sing songs and make offerings to the sun. They share simple food shortly before the sunset, and face the west in silence seeing off the sun as it goes down.
Latvian folklore has thousands of Jāņu songs, dedicated to every single theme and moment of the feast, and singers’ voices, unceased, resound far away into the silent nature. Drizzling rain saturates air with meadow herb fragrances. Peaceful tranquility descends upon the hill…
At dusk two archers bend their bows with burning arrows to set fire to a wooden barrel that stands on a high pole. It will illuminate the place where people take part in magical Jāņu dances, united in one moving element.
Bonfire will be kept burning all through the night to send away evil spirits and help the sun rise. At dawn people will walk the Path of Light to Dainu Hill, to meet the luminary and receive its powerful blessing…
* pronounced in Latvian as “yaany”