Jonines or St.John day (23 June)

Additional page: Recreating the life of the ancient Balts    
Kam Joninės, o kam Kupala

23 June evening at Latvia and Lithuania has a big stir. At this day traditionally the summer solstice is celebrating: with bonfire, songs and plays. At Latvia this day is called Ligu or Jani day, at Lithuania - Rasa or Jonines. At this "Vartiklis" page a few looks from side are given.

Here is a few photos from Jonines (St.John day or summer solstice) celebration. You can click the icon to get full photo view (the one is not sizeable). Later will be more.
Note: All photos are copyrighted (c)1997 by Jonas Skendelis and can't be used at any case without his personal permission.

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Look for the opinion of the German (at German language and translation of text to English language)

The last of the Livs light up
(by Philip Birzulis and Tanya R.Neuman)

For five thousands year the Livs, the Fino-Ugric people, celebrated Midsummer's Eve with bonfires on the beaches of Kurzeme in northwest Latvia. Pauline Klavina, one of less than 10 surviving native speakers of the Liv language, remembers some of festivals from her childhood before the war. As a fishing people, the Livs didn't make just bonfire but preferred to burn old boats on the beach. Klavina remembers the children making floral wreaths for the cows and placing special branches on the barn door, "to keep witches out". They would also put wreaths in the rye fields and vegetable gardens to encourage fertility. <...>

At night, bigger than Chistmas or New Year's bonfires consumed the hills. Everybody is invited to jump over the fire to erase all bad thoughts and illness and bring good luck until next year. If you jump with your swwetheart, your relationship will be strengthen.

Speaking of sweethearts, it's customary for some to attempt to find the elusive flowering fern in the woods. If you find the flower, it's supposed to bring wealth and eternal happiness to your relationship. Instead, it's a dark wood, you've had one too many to clearly see, there is no flowering fern - you get the picture.

<...> When I asked if anyone would be making "s'mores [note: graham crackers, chocolate and marshmellow roasted on a fire!], "they all looked at me like I was crazy".

A veteran and a virgin celebrate Ligo and Jani in different ways

Cal Boyd

This year was gona be it. I had prepared, cleared my calendar, written my news and filled my backpack. I had even taken a nap. Hopes as high as California concert-goer, I geared up for St. John's Day like a champion pagan training for the fire jumping season.

[While] my virgin brush <...> some two years ago <...> Latvia had closed down for a good 48 hours. Nor did it seems quaint, appopriate, traditional, fun, celebrant or any other word you might to choose to describe a nation that clears out its million-person capital for an all might debauch. <...> But there was a work to be done. The question was, what to do in a ghost town called Riga. [No chance].

So, this year was going to be different - and it certainly was. Though I didn't jump the fire, didn't make a mad dash for that special fern flower in the woods or even take a cleansing plunge into the moonlit and a fog-covered river, I did something I thought impossible. I participated in a fantastic, rather clean-cut St.John Day and didn't get rained on.

Though the pig-roasting was strictly out of the question, the mounds of Kernave [note: Lithuanian's first capital in medieval times] swarmed with merrymakers in traditional garb and some thousand-plus wholesome looking Lithuanian families.

I arrived too late for the feast of egg and beer, but caught the lighting of the sacred flame and songs sung around the campfire and a truly magnificent harvest moon beaming down upon a fog-filled valley.

Mellisa Quincy Elliot

3 p.m. Time to head to the train station. As I was walking, a nice-looking group of young men started saying hello and happy Ligo and other such remarks and I clammed up after laughing and saying thank you. This town was so full of love.

I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. We were heading to the countryside (i.e. going outside, wilderness). I was in a comfortable rut of coming home after work and reading books on economic, social and historical issues concerning Baltic states and drinking tea. Since I teach aerobics and run, I don't drink except for the occasional glass of wine with dinner, sometimes danced and was dating no one as the Ligo ar Jani holiday fell me like a bad deam.

A bad dream that was surprisingly the best darn thing that ever happened to me. Sure, you can read about it in Latvian history books, but boy-oh-boy, wait 'till I write home about this!

It started out nice enough. The sun was shining, everyone was preoccupied with getting firewood for the bonfire, the table set, all the intricate details of a party. I was in charge of relaxing. Everyone else knew what they were doing. I just kept thinking about the elusive fern flower. I hoped to God no one would ask me to go for a walk, and I was not going swimming, naked, with people I hardly knew.

This was all about to change as I drank some strange homemade spirits. <...> We made shish kebabs with chicken and onions and let the workday problems slip away as we told each other stories from our childhoods as teh smell of nurning wood filled our nostrils and a frothy brew slid like water down our throats.

I was in a complete lackadaisical lull of bliss and comfortableness. The group of about 12 people all took a walk around the grounds, but no one was looking for a flower. A few of the couples held hands. I held onto my beer.

When we got back to the campsite, I couldn't wait any longer and asked who would be jumping over the fire first. <...> OK, I would be second after someone showed me how to do it gracefully.

I wasn't gracefully. I wasn't swift. I was a little drunk and felt as if I could clear the Empire State building, but instead barely scaled the fire and everyone laughed. I felt exhilarated and awake, like I had just waken up from a great sleep.

This was a life - friends, fires and no woods in sight!

Lithuania's pagan past and future (by Jonathan Leff)

The holiday of Rasa, known in English as St.John Day, is celebrating at summer solstice. The holiday derives its name from the word for dew ("rasa") and according to old beliefs a big morning dew would mean a succesful harvest. Dew was also said to posses healing powers, which could restore youth or allows young girls to dream of their future husbands.

During the evening, young women face away from the pole and throw their wreaths in the air, attempting to land it atop the pole. It's a tradition that is still visible in contemporary weddings.

As the Rasa celebration continues, fires are lit, couples traipse into the woods to find their special fern at midnight, traditional songs are sung, and wreaths affixed with candles are set adrift on the river.

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