Summer Solstice thoughts

  • 2009-06-22
RIGA- Director of the Latvian Institute, Ojars Kalnins has written his thoughts on both the summer solstice and the situation in which Latvians find themselves.

Latvia awaits the longest day of the year in what seems to many like the longest

year in their lives. Especially if you are trying to balancea budget. Your own, or a


But the summer solstice on June 21 is a turning point.Spring ends, summer

begins, the days get shorter, the nights get longer, andplants, animals and other

living things all feel a shift in the world around them.

In ancient times when people watched the sun rise and fallevery day with great

care, the solstice was a singular event and signaled asignificant change in cosmic

direction. If you were used to one climactic pattern fromJanuary until June,

you got ready for the reverse in the second half of theyear. You hoped the

same applied to your fortunes.

Those who live in steel and concrete cities with fluorescentsunsets, or in

tropical climes where the sun is always around, may notrelate much to the

wonders of the summer solstice. But up here on the 57thparallel by the Baltic

Sea where the sun goes away to hide for months on end, andsometimes barely

comes up for a few hours, the month of June is a month to betreasured.

For reasons I can't begin to explain, Latvians celebrateMidsummer's Day on

June 23rd. We call it Līgo Day, and the day after that wecall Jāni. For Latvians, this is both their favorite holiday and also their oldest.We're fairly certain that our ancestors have been singing and dancing around bonfiresat this time of the year for several thousand years.

Latvians celebrate the solstice by gathering flowers, decoratingeverything, building bonfires, drinking beer, singing songs, eatingcheese, dancing in circles and staying up all night.

It's very important to stay up all night in Latvia on June23, because if you don't, the sun won't rise the next day. We have special songs youhave to sing when the sun goes down, or else it won't come up again in themorning. We light the bonfires before sunset so that the wandering sun can find alight once it approaches Latvia again. We do all this with ritual tenacity, and our ancestors have been doing the same thing, year after year, forcountless centuries. So far, it has worked. The sun has always risen on June 24th.

In the last week, the Latvian government, parliament,business community and their social partners have also been working around theclock to avoid an economic catastrophe. The entire world has been watching as Latvia has struggled with massive budget cuts, painful GDP drops,struggling businesses, and growing unemployment lines. The finest economic minds inthe world have taken up their rhetorical swords and have been bashing eachother daily in a global debate over whether Latvia should devaluate itscurrency or not.

But as I write, the lat is still pegged to the euro. Thegovernment has agreed on a 500 million lat budget reduction, and the parliament hasapproved it. Now we await the IMF and EC to give their nod of approval.

And we go out to the countryside, to build bonfires, pickflowers and fill pitchers of freshly brewed beer. We also stroll out into theforest in search of fern blossoms. You can find fern blossoms only at this timeof the year, and if you don't believe they exist, you will never find one.

If it sounds like Latvians look for a little magic aroundthis time of the year, you are right. It can't hurt. After all, we are facing anotherturning point in our lives. But one thing we know for sure. The sun will come uptomorrow.