On the night of 23rd to 24th of June Latvians are celebrating one of their biggest festivities of the year – Līgo. This is an ancient pagan festival that Latvians have kept celebrating until now. Maybe it is interesting to know how foreigners see it from their point of view. There is an interesting article about the issue on BBC: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-18614119?SThisFB&fb_ref=Default
Latvia’s most important national holiday is arguably not Christmas but the summer solstice celebrations of Ligo (pronounced “leegwa”) – a pagan tradition when Latvians celebrate the shortest night by staying up to greet the rising sun.
As the sun slowly sets about an hour and a half before midnight, it peeks out briefly from behind the clouds.
We all run out excitedly. Five minutes later, it is gone. For a festival which is all about celebrating the sun, the sun itself is being remarkably coy.
The weather has been poor all day but this is a beautiful, if fleeting, moment.
In this far northern land, winters are long, dark and snowy, with the temperature regularly falling below -30C, so you can understand why the arrival of the long summer days is greeted by something approaching national hysteria.
It is not a complicated festival. All you have to do is head out to the countryside, get a fire going, stay up all night waiting for the sun to come up and drink lots and lots of beer – which, I can only assume, is why it is called Ligo, the Latvian word for “sway”.
Women pick flowers to make into crowns for their heads, while men are supposed to strip naked and jump into a nearby lake or river.
Everyone sings medieval Latvian songs around the fire and couples are encouraged to disappear into the forest to look for a mythical flowering fern.
As a result of this particular tradition, it is widely thought that Latvia enjoys a mini baby-boom every year, about nine months after Ligo – no doubt all the drinking also has something to do with it.
The songs, the flowers, the running around naked are all signs of the pagan roots which Latvians are proud of and which have made the country what it is today.
Over the centuries, this tiny nation has been invaded by Swedes, Russians, Germans (with the Russians and the Germans even coming back for a second go) and ancient traditions helped Latvians hang on to their sense of national identity, even in the darkest days of foreign occupation.
During the years of Soviet rule, Latvian songs and poems were an important part of the resistance movement, eventually culminating in the so-called Singing Revolution in the late 1980s.
People here showed their desire for independence from the Soviet Union through mass singing events. The songs galvanised the independence movement by reminding Latvians of their pre-Soviet identity.
The midsummer celebrations are also a symbol of a romanticised and – in some ways quite fictional – rural past, and they are a reminder of a time before Stalin destroyed the Latvian countryside by sending small landowners to the gulags.
Midsummer was the point when farmers had finished ploughing and sowing the crops, and had not yet started the harvest. A good time to have a party.
Today in a globalised world of lattes and wi-fi, such ancient traditions seem to be more important than ever.
Zara and Costa Coffee may have arrived in Riga, but it is also more common than ever to see people walking round the streets in medieval national costume on public holidays.
High-quality Latvian-made designs are seen as more fashionable than anything H & M might have to offer.
But the traditions are also constantly in flux. My Latvian friends could not quite agree whether the Ligo tradition of jumping over the bonfire guaranteed you wealth, luck or love. To be on the safe side, we all did it anyway.
And there seemed to be a bit of controversy over whether the flowers in the girls’ hair meant they were virgins or just looking for love. As all the women had flowers on their heads, including a pregnant friend of mine, I can only assume that the general understanding was the latter.
Because this is the night when evil spirits are about, traditionally Latvians would protect their livestock by decorating them with wreaths made from branches and leaves.
Modern Latvians have more wealth invested in their cars than their cows, so today bumpers and wing mirrors are adorned with greenery instead.
And even the date is a little bit confused. The actual summer solstice is a few days before Ligo. It is thought it was moved after Christianity arrived in the Baltics in the 12th Century, to coincide with St John the Baptist’s feast day.
The missionaries obviously hoped that the Balts would soon forget their pagan, nature-worshipping ways – instead they kept doing the same thing, just a few days later.
The advantage of this rather loose definition of tradition is that it can be easily adapted.
At this particular Ligo celebration, there was a large group of French visitors so, as the Latvian sun came up, it was greeted by a long, wobbly line of people who had certainly done their bit with the Latvian beer but had dropped the traditional Latvian songs, in favour of a rather chaotic French cancan.
As this weren’t interesting enough I found that also ancient Incas celebrated their solistice on 24th of June, only it isn’t summer but winter solistice in Peru. Read about the event in the blog of DosManosPeru http://www.dosmanosperu.com/blog/inti-raymi-biggest-festival-peru/
Why Inti Raymi is the Biggest Festival of Peru
June is probably the most colorful month in the city of Cusco, full of events and activities. The most important day, June 24, is approaching quickly: it’s the day of Inti Raymi.
Inti Raymi is a traditional Inca festival literally translated as sun festival. It is celebrated in villages all over the old Inca Empire in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. But of course the biggest festival is held in Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire.
Inti Raymi was a religious ceremony which honored the sun god (Inti) at the time of the winter solstice. The ceremony was also said to tell tales of the mythical origin of the Incas. It lasted for nine days and was filled with colorful dances and processions, as well as animal sacrifices to give thanks to the Gods and to ensure a good harvest.
The first Inti Raymi was held in 1412, it was a tradition created by Sapa Inca Pachacuti to celebrate the Inca New Year. The last Inti Raymi with the Inca Emperor’s presence was carried out in 1535. After this the Spanish banned the ceremony in an attempt to kill off indigenous culture. The ceremony was re-created for the first time in 1944 mostly based on the writings of Garcilaso de la Vega – a famous chronicler, and son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca noblewoman. Since 1944 this theatrical representation of the religious ceremony has been taking place at the Inca Fortress of Sacsayhuamán, above the city of Cusco. That’s is about 3km away from where the original ceremony would have taken place in the city´s main plaza.
Nowadays Inti Raymi attracts thousands of tourists each year, both foreign and national. Ceremonies take place at three main locations in Cusco:
- At the Templo del Qorikancha, – which was the main temple in the time of the Inca – the ceremony will begin at 8.00am, they will re-enact the ceremony in which the Inca will make offerings to the gods. El Sinchi (general of the inca army) las accllas (the hidden women) las t’ika t’aqaqkunas (the women who lay flowers on the floor for the Inca to pass) los pichaqkunas (the men that clean the floor) and the Inca´s wife will all make an appearance. After the ceremony they will be led to the Plaza de Armas.
- The Plaza de Armas, is where the second act takes place. More ceremonies are carried out including when the Inca would have sacrificed a llama. They are then led to Saqsayhuaman for the final part of the ceremony.
We took the left rather than the right, though, as we wanted a short easy stroll. We walked along the dirt road on the other side of the river until the next bridge crossing back over, about 2 hours of leisurely walking. Along the whole road we saw ruins, from terracing to small complexes of buildings. The day was beautiful, and the scenery idyllic with cows grazing about us and crops bursting out everywhere, even amongst the ruins.
- At Saqsaywaman, at approximately 1.30pm, the third act of inti Raymi will start. There is a grand ceremony, the most important and impressive of the day. Including the Inka and all his helpers plus the Inca army. All in the spectacular setting of the fort of Saqsayhuaman.
Now it becomes really interesting. I have read that Latvian richest ethnographiic belt, namely Lielvardes belt have common traits with that of Incas. Is there some ancient connection? This will stay enigma, of course, but ahyway I have to see this place, thats for sure.
And yes solistices are about the Sun and fortunately we have the museum of the Sun in Riga. Ironicaly I hadn’t been in this museum and didn’t know about it until Stephanie, the French girl from my Spanish class discovered it. Recently I and my daughter visited the museum and I recommend it for all guests of Riga as well. I didn’t check, but I suppose that some audio guide or translation by the guide is available too. So, at the beginning of the exposition those who are interested get to know rich information about our solar system. Then you can see different visions of the Sun in different cultures around the globe. Examples:
Suns are so different. Pity though that it is not possible to remember places they are from though they are given there. But the most interesting thing for me was the workshop where you have an opportunity to colour your own sun of choice. Like this:
And you can take your creation with yourself. So, visit Riga and enjpy!