TALLINN - In a week, the streets of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius will
be eerily deserted as people throughout the region retreat to the countryside
for the night-long festival. The holiday is the largest annual celebration in
all three Baltic States, as they reconnect with their pagan roots. Traditions
include building a bonfire, dancing and singing traditional songs until dawn.
Revelers build crowns of leaves as flowers to wear through the night.
The holiday dates to pre-Christian times, but was renamed “St. John’s Day” after the arrival of Christianity in the 13th century.
The holiday is always held on the night of June 23 and is meant to mark the
longest day of the year - when the sun only sets for a few hours and the night
never gets much darker than twilight.
Traditional foods include Jani cheese, (usually lots of) beer and grilled meats. The holiday is known as Jaanipaev in Estonia, Jani in Latvia and Jonines in Lithuania. Midsummer Eve is a beautiful summer evening filled with mysticism, love, flaming bonfires and feelings, dancing and music, “swinging songs” and folk games. All of that can be experienced at the Estonian Open Air Museum on the night that is the most important holiday of the year for Estonians.