Jaanipäev bonfires on a Baltic beach, Source: Depositphotos

Jaanipäev – the Estonian way to welcome the summer

Jaanipäev – the Estonian way to welcome the summer

Like many other European traditions, we should seek its origins in pagan times and beliefs

The days are as long as they get, and the nights are warm and pleasant. On 23 and 24 June, Estonians celebrate Jaaniõhtu (Midsummer Eve – 23 June) and Jaanipäev (Midsummer Day, St John’s Day – 24 June). While in many countries the arrival of summer is just another day on the calendar, in Estonia these days are public holidays and a time to reconnect with their rural roots and nature.

Jaanipäev was celebrated long before the arrival of Christianity in Estonia, although the Teutonic Crusaders gave the day its name after John the Baptist. The arrival of Christianity, however, did not put an end to the pagan beliefs and fertility rituals surrounding the holiday.

In fact, one splendid thing about the Baltic people is how they have managed to resist and adapt to external influences throughout the ages, adapting to them but nevertheless leaving their indelible mark.

After the War of Independence, when the Estonian forces defeated the German troops on 23 June 1919, the celebration of Jaanipäev became associated with the ideals of independence and freedom, giving the holiday a political and nationalist colouring, too. And that’s what makes the day particularly distinct in Estonia.

What happens during Jaanipäev?

Like many other celebrations of summer solstice or St. John’s Day, the festivities in Estonia are marked by the obligatory lighting of large bonfires. It is done as a way to ensure prosperity and cleanse oneself of bad fortune and so one must jump over it.

The fire also frightened away evil spirits, who avoided it at all costs, thus ensuring a good harvest. So, the bigger the fire, the further the evil spirits stayed away.

That’s also a good season for romance. Lovers go into the forest to find the fern flower that is said to bloom only on this night. Also on this night, single people can follow a detailed set of instructions to see who they will marry.

The best thing to celebrate the day is to head to the countryside as virtually every village organizes a fest for Jaanipäev, marked by jolly merriment, eating and drinking late into the night.



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