Despite the best enticing efforts of an acquaintance from Latvia, I have become reticent to attend one of the initially most appealing of world festivities. There are a few, scattered here and there on this globe that we should all see once, or twice: The Rio carnival in Brazil, Hogmanay in Edinburgh, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Novruz in Tehran, the Octoberfest in Munich, San Fermin in Pamplona, Spain, with the running of the bulls, Dia de los Muertos in Mexico City, the Holi festival in Mumbai, Festival of the Sun, Lima, Peru, St Patrick’s in Dublin, the water festival in Bangkok, to say nothing about the quite intriguing penis festival of Kawasaki, Japan, and therein lies my worry:
- she did try to tempt me with tales of young maidens running through meadows nude to paint their nakedness with morning dew as part of the Līgo!, the Latvian Summer Solstice celebration, lasting 3 days long, and as careful bait added that men called Jāņi (Iain is my 2nd name, a Scottish ‘Jāņi’) received special treatment on that day, getting to wear a thick crown of oak leaves and receiving particular attention, during this festival of fertility, from Latvia’s nubile finest.
So basically I was imagening this in the build-up to 23rd-25th June:
But, when went to Latvian websites to search more about the Latvian Līgo! summer celebration, again and again I got details about men swimming together naked in lakes and rivers during the Līgo!, and got this:
Suddenly, my enthusiasm started waning, slipping away from me…positively dropping…I mean, meadows have flowers. Lakes and rivers…well…mud.
One day I will celebrate the Līgo! though. When I’ve plucked up the courage – as apparently it doesn’t quite end there, according to the online brochures, as women sometimes sit and watch as the men take their communal dip.
The Līgo! is a somewhat mystical celebration, with according to ancient traditions couples search for a legendary fern blossom, with magical powers of fertility, as well as apparently washing faces in the grass`s morning dew, and gathering herbal plants which are said to have a special attributes during midsummer.
The festival is not modern, and the Līgo! Summer Solstice or Jāņi celebrations date back to Pagan times. Bonfires and other rituals were not only part of annual traditional celebrations, but also manifested the unity of cosmic and earth order. Jāņi is specifically the celebration of the longest day and shortest night of the year, as well as the name of a few particularly happy Latvian men.
Jāņi is also closely connected to the countryside – everybody tries to at least spend the day and/or night outside a residential area, drink home made beer, and hopefully tea, and search for that fern blossom in forests – a handy excuse if I ever heard one.
Towns have the parades, dancing and specially-prepared foods, and as evening draws near, people are drawn to large bonfires, warming themselves around the fire, playing games, dancing and observing traditional rituals and other activities until the sunrise. Hopefully fertility is still not on the agenda as I have a sneaky feeling I can’t keep up with that pace!