What is Jani?
Jani is a simple yet fun-filled pagan holiday in Latvia that takes place yearly to celebrate the longest day and the shortest night of the year, i.e., the summer solstice. It is also called Ligo.
Jani brings many traditional rituals of Latvian people close to their hearts. People spend the whole night around a bonfire and partake in many rebirths or new life rituals. The sole purpose of the celebrations is to honor, celebrate, and thank the blessings given by the fertility god 'Janis.' People usually travel to the countryside to spend the day with family and friends.
Jani All Quick Overview
- Time / Date: June 24
- Category: Cultural
- Where It’s Marked: Latvia
- Why It’s Marked: The day commemorates fertility, regeneration, and good luck based on Latvia’s ancient folk traditions.
History of Jani
Jani was initially an ancient Latvian harvest festival that occurred after the farmers sowed their crops and before they gathered the harvest.
Its origin dates back centuries, and people gathered the traditions in small portions from various passed–on Latvian folksongs. The modern festivities are a partly hazy image of the ancient pagan tribal rituals occurring during the summer solstice.
Before summer solstice became a Christian tradition, the Pagan tribes of Europe celebrated it yearly at the height of summer. As Latvia has predominantly become a Christian nation, the day coincides with St. John's.
During Soviet rule, the Jani traditions were forbidden because the Soviet ruling class had a negative attitude towards its practices. They wanted to erase the original traditions over time. Although afterward, the celebrations were allowed, the Soviet culture tried to take over the occasion entirely by making it all about dancing, drinking, and eating meat without genuinely embracing the meaning.
But, since the independence of Latvia in 1990, many people have shown interest in restoring the ancient pagan traditions for celebrating Jani as a part of the nation’s dignity.
In modern days, many people celebrate the day in mass concerts and dances. But, still, most people take it seriously and make preparations way before the event. They celebrate it in the countryside following traditional rituals.
People clean up their properties and decorate the buildings, houses, and even livestock with oak or floral wreaths to welcome the fertility god, Janis. The hosts serve unique round-shaped cheese with carraway seeds, bacon buns, and other pastries and brew beer to enjoy with visitors, friends, and family.
How to Celebrate Jani
People celebrate Jani in honor of the shortest night and the fertility god, Janis. They welcome the following day with a blazing bonfire and stay awake all night to greet the morning sun.
As we mentioned, city people set out to the countryside to enjoy the day. Some people bring their food, tents, and musical instruments. They light a bonfire and sing Latvian folksongs for Jani all night long, with occasional dancing and jumping over the fire.
Dancing around and jumping over the fire has some traditional meaning to it. Of course, it is fun but also holds significance. Jumping over the fire is believed to bring good luck for the future. Moreover, farmers also consider that the light of the bonfire can bestow fertility and power of harvest on the fields bringing a vast harvest in the future.
The women and men wear traditional dresses if they have one. Otherwise, men and women usually make wreaths from flowers, grass, oak, and birch branches to wear around their heads. The flower wreaths are made mainly by women, and the oak wreaths by men.
In the past, people used to decorate their livestock with wreaths to protect them from evil eyes and spirits. Moreover, people also decorate their houses with nettles and thistles attached to their doors. This is done to keep evil spirits away.
But there is more! The hosts usually brew homemade beer, which everyone enjoys throughout the night. Then the sunrise eventually brings all the dancing and the laughter to a still, offering a peaceful advancement to a new morning.
Countries that Observe Jani
Latvia celebrates Jani every year.
Interesting Facts about Jani
Jani is a serious and meaningful celebration of the Pagan tribe which now includes some modern aspects of Latvia. Although the traditions are ancient, it doesn’t mean the celebration does not have any interesting facts. Learn some interesting facts about Jani below.
- Latvians believe that the wildflowers they pick on summer solstice have healing powers.
- Couples jumping over the bonfire believe the fire will bind them together for life.
- People are not allowed to sleep on the night of Jani, only after sunrise.
- After sunrise, if one walks through the morning dew, it is believed to bring fortune.
- Washing one’s face with the morning dew is believed to bring beauty.
- The standard and popular Jani flowers for weaving are daisies, blue cornflowers, and clover.
Unique Jani Celebration Ideas
We have two great and unique ideas if you want to do something special with Jani.
1. Spend time with fellow Latvians
If you live abroad, try to find a Latvian community and spend the day bonding over a bonfire.
2. Sing and dance
If you have no common Latvian friends, enjoy the time to yourself. You can invite your friends over and teach them some of the Latvian traditions. Turn up the volume of a Latvian folksong and dance around your house or apartment. Take a break from your busy schedule and enjoy the two-day long holiday.
Here are some great quotes or wishes to wish your family and friends on Jani.
“Let the light of bonfire take all our sorrows and troubles away from you; so you can have a new beginning.”
“Whatever the morning dew touches on Jani will bring good fortune and happiness.”
1. What are the other activities of Jani besides the traditional ones?
Latvia’s capital, Riga, holds non-traditional concerts, dance shows, and get-togethers on the day of Jani.
2. When is Ligo?
Midsummer eve, or Ligo, is the day before Jani, a public holiday.
3. Do Latvians speak English?
Although senior residents of Latvia cannot speak or understand much English, the younger residents do understand and speak English.
We constantly update the dates of holidays that keep changing every year. However, while we revise and change some dates to be accurate, if you find any errors, kindly inform us . That will mean a lot to us.