Saturday, 5 July 2014

Jāņi - Latvian Midsummer

On June 23rd we celebrated Jāņi together with our Latvian friends, which is their celebration of midsummer, complete with fires, homemade cheese, beer (very important) and attempting to stay up until sunrise - whoever fails to do so is cursed with sleepiness for a year, at least in Latvian tradition. What is important to note here is that of course the night of June 23rd in the high latitudes of Latvia isn't more than 3 or 4 hours long, which means that Jāņi doesn't translate so well for countries that aren't situated quite as close to polar bears and baby harp seals as the Baltics are - call me Bulgaria. Some of us made the brave attempt, but the idea of sleeping around the fire, or in custom hammocks, beat the spirits of all but the toughest.

The celebration took place in a summer house on Stara Planina close to Rebrovo, which is in a forested valley next to Sofia. It never ceases to surprise me with how many beautiful spots of nature, mountains, lakes, rivers and forests, exist no farther away than a single hour's trip from Bulgaria's beating heart.

A taste of the 40-minute train ride, together with Janis, Rian, Zanda and Vicente.

Latvian homemade "cheese"

What? ZANDA is evolving!
So much green... Jāni had his day
Wild strawberries! City boy was excited!

Picking flowers for the Jāņi crowns

After the sun set, the fireflies came out to play. Some of us, including myself, had never seen a firefly before, and that we were excited doesn't even begin to describe it. The attempt of a video above doesn't remotely do the experience justice, but at least you can catch part of the vibe, especially played by the sound of the chatter of the crickets and the song of other little creatures of the night.

I'll leave you with an interesting observation: Greece, Bulgaria, Spain, Latvia, Denmark and I'm sure further countries still, all share the same obviously pagan celebration on the same day - the summer solstice - but it's everywhere under the guise of the same obviously christian name: St. John's. Vicente's theory is that the pagan festival had existed everywhere in Europe since ancient times, and very early on in its history christianity decided to keep it intact in order to not not alienate the recently-converted pagans. It added, however, the "front" of the christian saint to more covertly incorporate the old celebration to its own traditions. Who knows?

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