The most important Latvian festival is called Jāņi (pronounced "YAH-nyih"). It is celebrated on the evening of June 23rd, which is the eve of St. John's Day (June 24th). It was very obviously a pagan celebration of the summer solstice (June 21st), but was probably associated with the feast of St. John the Baptist after the introduction of Christianity.

"Jāņi" means "Johns". Any man whose name is John has a special status during Jāņi. In some regions he is given a special loaf of rye bread on the day that Jāņi is celebrated.

All the particpants wear wreaths on their heads. Men traditionally wear wreaths made from oak leaves.

On the left you see two women, in Latvian folk costume, making oakwreaths for the Jāņi celebrations. Women sometimes wear oakwreaths, although they more often wear wreaths made from daisies, or other wild flowers, as are these young girls on the right.

Another tradition is to build a bonfire. Some participants merely cook sausages in the bonfire. In other regions, hardier souls jump over the bonfire! In some traditions, the height that you reach when you jump over the bonfire is an indication of how high your flax will grow that summer, so the higher the better! What you see below, at the left, is a very medium-sized bonfire!

Jāņi are associated with singing special songs, to which the refrain is always: līgo, līgo. (It's pronounced like this: imagine you are a New Yorker who doesn't say 'r's at the ends of words (Rosie O'Donnell is a good example) and say: "Lee Gore" but accent the word "Lee", not the word "Gore". Clear?)

The verb līgot in Latvian means to sway back and forth rhythmically. However, it also means specifically to sing songs with the refrain līgo in them &mdash in other words Jānis Eve songs! To see an example of a Jānis Eve song (with a līgo refrain) click here → Jānis song.

A traditional food made for Jāņi is Jānis' cheese. This is made from fresh milk and cream, and seasoned with caraway seeds. It makes a great accompaniment to bread, beer, and sausages toasted over a Jāņi bonfire! If you want the recipe, click here → Jānis Cheese!

Links to sites about Pagan Festivals:

Latviešu folklora. Latvian folklore site (in Latvian); a project of Latvian Education Informatization System.

Country of Latvia | Travel in Latvia | Latvian Language | History of Latvia | Latvian Cuisine | Latvian Folklore and Folk Costumes | Latvian Music, Songs, and Dances

This page created and maintained by
A. Steinbergs

Last revised September 16, 2008