St. John's Eve and Day

St. John's Eve and Day (Latvia)(Jans vakars)

June 23-24
The three-day Midsummer festival known as Ligo Svetki is Latvia's greatest feast of the year. It begins on St. John's Eve, when boys and girls meet in the village squares. The boys chase the girls and, in accordance with an ancient custom, beat them with cattail switches. Then the young people gather flowers, herbs, and grasses to make wreaths that will be used in ceremonies the following day.
They also practice Ligo songs, which are based on the traditional Latvian daina, a short, unrhymed song in which epic and lyric elements are mixed. Sometimes the songs take the form of singing contests in praise or blame of the various men in town who are named Janis (or John): One group of singers praises a certain Janis for the prosperity of his farm and livestock, while another points out that his garden is full of weeds, his barnyard is littered with rubbish, and his servants are lazy. These songs serve as a reminder to everyone that their homes must be ready for the guests who will arrive on the following night—the boys and girls who arrive armed with their wreaths and place them on the heads of Janis and his wife.
As in many other countries, lighting bonfires is a tradition in Latvia on St. John's Night. Young people jump over the fires in the belief that it will ensure a good harvest. Others wave Ligo torches and perform typical Latvian folk dances, such as the Trisparu deja, the Jandalins, the Ackups, and the Sudmalinas. In some Latvian towns, arches made from birch branches and wildflowers are placed in front of the houses, and the ceremonies associated with the Ligo feast are performed beneath these fragrant canopies.
BkFest-1937, pp. 213, 214
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 606
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 395

Celebrated in: Latvia

Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.