Ligo: history, rituals and how to celebrate nowadays

Everyone's favorite Latvian holiday "Ligo" is celebrated through the night from June 23 to 24. Let's review the interesting history of this holiday, while talking about ancient traditions, signs, costumes and unusual rituals. We have also prepared a list of places that will be worth visiting during these dates.

Ligo: history, rituals and how to celebrate nowadays

The Birth of “Ligo”

“Ligo”, or “Jani” is the day of the solstice. During the “Ligo” Latvians praised the god of fertility — Janis. The celebration was called “Ligo”, because in many songs performed on that day, the word “ligoties” (ligoties from Latin — to sway) can be often heard. The lyrics spoke to the sun and asked for it to rise above the planted fields for a good harvest.

On the eve of “Jani” night (Herbal or Green day), the girls made bouquets and collected medical plants: clover, chamomile, mint, St. John’s wort and others. The corners, doors, and windows of the house were decorated with branches of birch, oak, and ribbon. Wreaths made of oak were especially appreciated. Oak is a tree that is often hit by lightning, so the wreaths of it were a kind of amulets filled with heavenly fire. And also the oak is a symbol of longevity, and in order to wish men a long life, girls put wreaths on their heads.

Ligo: history, rituals and how to celebrate nowadays
Latvia. Ligo
Ligo: history, rituals and how to celebrate nowadays
Latvia. middle of the 20th century

Celebration in the old days

By June 23, farmers had to finish their field work and prepare meals for distinguished guests — beer and cheese. The round yellow heads of cheese are like the sun, so they are the main attributes of the celebration. Cheese was not simple, made with cumin and therefore had a bright aroma, combined exclusively for this holiday.

Important characters of the celebration were “Jani’s father and mother” (owners of the house). The man was brewing beer, and the woman was preparing “Jani” cheese with cumin. Janis’ children knocked on the bandage with noise and singing, and the hosts welcomed them with their meals.

When evening came, the villagers went to any high point and called it “Janis mountain”. There was a pole set with a barrel of resin. Janis climbed the “tower” with a fire in his hands and lit the barrel. In most regions of Latvia, this tradition was called “Janis Fire”, “Janis Lamp” or “Janis Candle”.

Before dawn, they danced on Janis Hill, performed rituals and sang songs. Today more than 40,000 quatrains are known in the theme of “Ligo” celebration.

At 02:02 the straw-wrapped wheel and tar-watered cart wheel were set on fire and rolled from the high ground towards the set of cheers, songs and unruly fun.

Ligo: history, rituals and how to celebrate nowadays

Rituals and Legends

Singing and dancing around the campfire meant promoting the fertility of the sown fields. If they wanted to experience the strength of love, the couple jumped over the fire whilst holding their hands. If during the jump lovers lost grip, it meant that their love won’t last forever.

The girls wove wreaths and let them through the water. If the wreath does not sink into the water — in the autumn you will be a bride. To embellish a young man before a date, you had to hold a small head of cheese with cumin under your arm and then feed the lover.

The traditional fire was created by friction of oak and spruce bars. They threw clothes in it, most often a handkerchief or a shirt. It was customary for getting rid of misfortunes and ailments.

Ligo: history, rituals and how to celebrate nowadays
Latvia. Valātas pilskalnā. Ligo
Ligo: history, rituals and how to celebrate nowadays
Latvia. Valātas pilskalnā. Ligo

The wreaths made on “Jani” night held magical value. They were worn on the heads of people and even animals. Men got oak, and women — from delicate flowers.

The main tradition of the holiday is the search for the fern flower. Both boys and girls wanted to find it. It was necessary to go into the forest, cut down a thick rowan stick, go forward and, in spite of everything, avoid turning around. It was believed that various sounds of the power of darkness wanted to prevent the search for the fern. The legend says that if a girl finds the fern in the night from June 23 to 24, she will meet a loved one and get married in the same year.

There are legends that you can not sleep during “Ligo” — the one who does not celebrate during “Jani” night will sleep all summer. It was also believed that if someone didn’t follow the tradition, they would remain unmarried for the rest of their lives.

Traditional “Ligo” Costumes

The main hat of the festival is the wreath of living flowers and plants. But it did not last long so more often beads, ribbons or other elements are used. In addition to wreaths on heads, a wide ribbon and a cap could be seen as an ornament. The wreath and ribbon were worn by unmarried ladies, and the cap was intended for married women.

The most popular outfit during “Ligo” is a long-sleeved linen shirt resembling a tunic. This shirt was worn by men, women, and children. On top of their shirts, girls wore a coat on the shoulders and it was called “villaine”. The colors, shape and embroidery on it differed depending on the region. There were white capes, as well as blue and green embroidery.

The mandatory length of the skirt is up to the ankle. Some chose striped skirts while others preferred caged design. There were also plain skirts. In addition to skirts, sundresses were worn, mainly in red. On the feet— shoes made of genuine leather called “pastalas”.

Ligo: history, rituals and how to celebrate nowadays
Latvia. Valātas pilskalnā. Ligo
Ligo: history, rituals and how to celebrate nowadays
Latvia. Valātas pilskalnā. Ligo

Bright and colorful elements of the costume — brooch (sakta). Traditional decoration with which a woman’s cape or a man’s shirt was fastened. Sakta was passed on in the family by inheritance, and was an indicator of a rich life. The jewelry was made of bronze, silver or iron, and for women in addition decorated with gems.

Ligo: history, rituals and how to celebrate nowadays

Midsummer events 2024

Līgo Wondersala

The Summer Solstice is a time when the world is in full bloom and the day lasts longer than the night. Wondersala is organising a Midsummer Night event so that those who want to combine the urban environment with tradition can enjoy the enchanting solstice, accompanied by the bands “Pērkons”, “Menuets” and more.

Food, drinks, dancing and more. Admission is free.

Time and place: Andrejsala, entrance begins at 7 PM.


Jāņu nakts Grīziņkalnā!

Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, Grīziņkalns park offers to spend the shortest night of the year steeped in tradition: singing, dancing, wreath weaving and traditional games.

“Midsummer Night in Grīziņkalns!” offers both the ancient and the contemporary. With folk music, fire-lighting rituals and a pleasant atmosphere, all ages are welcome. 

Free admission.

Time and place: Grīziņkalns park; entrance from 8 PM.


Tradicionālie Jāņi Dzegužkalnā

The highest point in Riga, considered by some sources to be the oldest solstice celebration site in the city, the Dzegužkalns event offers a familiar range of activities and more. In addition to dancing and wreath weaving, you can practice your fortune-telling skills. Welcome the sun and celebrate Midsummer in good company.

Free entry.

Time and place: Dzegužkalns park. Entrance from 8 PM.


Jāņu vakars Mežaparkā „Rīgas zaļumballe”

The hosts of the event—actors Andris Bulis and Gints Grāvelis of the “GraBulis” troupe—offer something for people of all walks of life. In addition, various ethno bands (such as “Ogas” and “Stiprās sievas”), as well as national treasure, singer Intars Busulis will be making an appearance. Everyone has their own associations with this special celebration and the term “zaļumballe” (literally—green party), but Mežaparks is offering the opportunity to feel part of a united whole.

Time and place: Mežaparks Green Theatre; entrance begins at 8 PM.


Author : editor nbhd
Date: 17.06.24