Solving the annual St. John's quandary

  • 2007-06-20
  • By TBT staff

ORGANIZED ESCAPE: Tradition dictates that Midsummer is celebrated with bonfires in the countryside, but city dewllers also have a few options, like the annual party at the Estonian Open Air Museum.

Midsummer (June 23 - 24) may or may not be the biggest holiday on the Baltic calendar (Christmas is still holding its own), but it place in the national psyche of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is definitely unmatched (see related article page 16). In all of these countries, the day is traditionally celebrated with friends and family at bonfires in the countryside. This presents the problem of planning, especially for foreigners. They're more likely to be stuck for places to celebrate the shortest night of the year, since they usually don't have country-dwelling relatives, to say nothing of tents and sleeping bags.
To give our readers some options, The Baltic Times has put together an overview of organized Midsummer activities throughout the region.

Vilnius residents can get an early start on their revelry this year: the holiday buzz starts on June 21 with the first live concert of the Let There Be Night festival, the French-themed Fete de la Musique, happening at the Angel in Uzupis at 7 p.m. The festival itself lasts the entire weekend and involves a huge number of intriguing nighttime activities (see for the schedule). You can visit an herbal market, see a woven fence in the Town Hall Square, listen to Granny's Fairy Tales for children, see night theater and art exhibitions, send water mail in the Vilnele River, learn how bread and sakotis (baumkuchen) are made, listen to performances on the water, get an eyeful of fire signs, dance salsa or lindyhop under the stars... the list goes on. Most of these activities happen on the evening of June 22, the night before the real Midsummer celebration.

For that evening, you may want to be somewhere outside the capital. In Moletai, for example, people will be celebrating Midsummer in Zalvario park June 23 - 25 with pillow fights, a model airplane race, a Sumo wrestling competition and fireworks. If you want to take part in the oldest Midsummer party in Lithuania, visit Kernave on the evening of June 23 where you can jump over bonfires and sing traditional songs.
Anyone in Palanga is welcome to head to the nearby town Sventoji for a night of weaving garlands, singing and collecting herbs. Those in Klaipeda can take part in a traditional feast on June 23, and greet the sun on Jonas Hill.
And if all the traditional Midsummer buzz is getting a bit too Baltic, visit the country music festival in Kaunas, which happens June 22 - 23.

In Latvia, everyone with even the remotest possibility to do so gets out of the cities and travels to the countryside to celebrate Ligo (midsummer's night) and Jani (midsummer's day). Despite the tradition of throwing a party lasting all night long, Riga promises to be a veritable ghost-town on the night of the 23rd.
Anticipating this, the city of Riga will offer little or no festivities on the night of the 23rd, but will instead hold the annual fair on the night of the 22nd, catching many people just before they make their way out of town. The fair will take place in Dome Square, in the center of Old Town. The most important part of it will be a "green market," where visitors will be able to buy the traditional midsummer cheese, beer, honey, bread, wildflowers, wreaths and many other traditional things associated with the holiday. Normally, about 400 vendors show up for the event.

The biggest event to take place outside of Riga will be the annual ball in the small town of Raiskums in the Cesis district. Maestro Raimonds Pauls has prepared a four part program for the event, featuring famous Latvian bands such as "Labveligais tips," "Dakota," "Rigas vilni" and "Dzelzs vilks." In addition to these groups there will be a children's ensemble and a number of solo artists.
Many other cities and towns in Latvia 's particularly Ventspils, Valmiera, Talsi and Ogre 's will also be holding festivals throughout the night featuring singing, dancing and libations.

In Estonia, Midsummer is known as Jaanipaev (St John's Day). For those living in Tallinn who aren't lucky enough to have country-dwelling friends, there are still events in the cities to help celebrate the nation's favorite holiday.
The biggest public party can be found at the Estonian Open Air Museum in Rocca Al Mare, a 20 minute trolley bus ride from central Tallinn. Last year almost 8,000 people attended, something that surprised even the organizers.
"This party is very nostalgic. If you have guests from foreign lands, you can show them how Estonia celebrates,"  said Maarja Kouts, project coordinator of the museum's Jaanipaev event.
There will be four different themed areas across the museum's quaint and grassy grounds, each giving a taste of Jaanipaev during eras of history.

The Czarist period, when Estonia was ruled by imperial Russia, will be recreated with music from the folk band Leigarid.
Nearby, the first period of Estonia's independence 's often remembered as a time of prosperity and cultural development 's will be celebrated with traditional "fancy" food, and re-enactments of characters from famous pieces of Estonian literature.
The Soviet period will also be represented in a slightly controversial way. Visitors can participate in Pioneer games, while several uniformed military policemen will be on hand "keeping things in order," Kouts explained.
Entry costs 150 kroons (9.58 euros) for adults, 100 kroons for students, and 350 kroons for a family ticket. The party starts at 7pm and ends at 12pm.

Last year visitors reported difficulties getting back into Tallinn, with long taxi queues and exorbitant rates. To avoid getting stuck, leave the party a few minutes early and take the last trolleybus from the Zoo stop at 11:45 p.m, or the last bus from the same stop at 11:57 p.m..
A public party will also be held in Tartu, with a bonfire at the National Museum in Raadi. Tartu's Jaanipaev could well claim to be the country's official event 's after all, their bonfire will be lit by the president.
But for something really unique, head to Suure-Jaani in Viljandimaa county on June 23 for a midnight concert on a swamp island.

The Suure-Jaani music festival celebrates the work of composers Eugen and Artur Kapp, who wrote classical scores and operas. Buses will collect visitors at 12:30 a.m. from the central square of the town and deliver them to the Hupassare swamp park. From there, it's a 1km stroll across a boardwalk to the island.
Guests are asked to bring warm clothing, a flashlight, something to sit on and a thermos of hot tea. Head to for more information.