Jaanipäev – Midsummer’s Eve or St John’s Day – 23rd June
Midsummer or St. John’s Day, Jaanipäev as it is known in Estonia, is one of the oldest local celebrations.
Due to its northern location, Estonia experiences the summertime ‘White Nights’ phenomena, when the sun sets late and the night is dusk at most. Midsummer coincides closely with the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere – the summer solstice. Midsummer festivities begin on the eve of June 23rd and conclude on June 24th. Estonians barely sleep during this bright period, sitting outside by the glow of bonfires and twilight.
Originating in ancient folk traditions, St. John’s Day marks the beginning of the season for haymaking. The day was celebrated long before the arrival of Christianity in Estonia and although the celebration received a Christian name, the pagan tradition is still alive and well today. Since 1919, Midsummer celebrations have coincided with those of Victory Day, when Estonian forces defeated German troops on June 23rd in the War of Independence.
Midsummer’s Eve is intertwined with many folk beliefs. Children stay up until dawn, while young lovers wander through the forest looking for a lucky fern flower said to bloom only on this night. If you are lucky enough to spot a glow-worm, you may expect a great fortune. Young women looking to take a sneak peek into the future are advised to collect nine different types of flowers and place them under a pillow for the night, resulting in a predictive dream revealing a future spouse. The more adventurous boys and girls are known to take a jump over the bonfire in hopes of achieving prosperity or to swing as high as possible on the village’s wooden swing. More moderate traditions include singing, dancing and telling old folk tales.
Today, Midsummer is a national holiday giving city folks an opportunity to take a break in the countryside. People tend to spend the day with friends barbecuing in the garden or having a picnic in the wilderness. However, the tradition of village parties featuring bands playing around massive bonfires hasn’t gone anywhere, proving to be the highlight event in many rural towns and villages.
You can watch a video about Midsummer’s Eve below