Friday, June 24, 2005

Midsummer Night

"Jani" - pencil drawing by Viestarts Aistars

by Zinta Aistars

One night each year, that longest night
between spring and summer
when the sun never sets,
only slips along the horizon,
a glowing orb rippling red
across a dark slide
into tomorrow—
between that rise and fall
we play, children all, and sing:
ligo, ligo…
skirts falling heavy
around bare legs, flowers tucked
into our hair, wreaths of oak leaves
falling across the gleam in the eyes
of our men—until a hand
reaches for mine, and we race,
leap, over the bonfire,
flames lapping our heels while we dare
the gods to test our nerve,
our desire to challenge fire,
the night, and our unwillingness
to ever die.

The annual celebration of the summer solstice, known as Jani is generally viewed as one of the most important Latvian holidays. Jani is celebrated on June 23 and 24. The traditions and rituals associated with the celebration of Jani are deeply rooted in ancient Latvian folklore and continue to have deep symbolic meaning for the celebrants. Participants gather flowers, grasses and oak leaves which are used to make wreaths and decorate the farmstead, house and farm animals. Jani night activities include the singing of special Jani songs (Ligo songs) around a ceremonial bonfire. Home-brewed beer and a special Jani caraway seed cheese are an essential part of this colourful holiday ritual.

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