Summer solstice, June solstice, Midsummer’s Eve, St. John’s Day… there is a saying in Estonian – heal lapsel mitu nime – that translates as „a good child has many names“. This particular day in our calendar sure is good, according to that standard. In Estonia, as in many other countries in the Baltic Sea region, Midsummer and Christmas are among the most important days of the year and have been that for hundreds and even thousands of years. Both mark the breaking points of the Sun’s yearly journey. Summer solstice is the time when the Sun barely leaves the sky, leaving us with the white nights and passionate desire for blinding curtains for the sake of sleep quality. Winter solstice, well, you can imagine, is the opposite. The light around winter solstice is so scarce it barely deserves to be called light. That time of the year should officially be classified as optional hibernation period.
I want to tell you a bit about our summer solstice, as today actually is summer solstice, and Estonians are all migrating to the countryside for a long weekend of celebrations. I have heard visitors wonder why, what’s the fuss? Indeed, what is it that makes people pack up their families and friends, put their daily lives on hold, mute the digital buzz and go find some green spot, build a large bonfire, sing and dance, play games, eat and drink themselves silly, and at some point risk burning some vital body parts by jumping over those bonfires. Fine, the jumping part is actually not that common, as in my 36 years I have never seen anyone actually do that, nor have I attempted it myself, but it is part of the tradition.
Leaving jokes aside (not for long, I promise), Estonians are what we call „looduse usku“, meaning that we believe in nature. It is a bit difficult to describe, as it is not just on knowledge level. It feels much deeper. I guess we feel connected to nature, this tiny part of our planet. Understandable, given that our ancestors have lived here for thousands of years. Our roots run deep, whether we realize this or not. Modern Estonians do not think that much about the natural cycle as such, most of us do not start making hay after the Midsummer’s Eve as in the old days, but it feels amazing to breathe in the green smells, to feel the heat of the bonfire, to laugh, connect and communicate with others who feel the same way. We live busy lives, so it has perhaps become even more important to have this time for our loved ones, our communities, and ourselves. So worth the bloody fight with gnats!
So now you know some pretty important things about Estonians. Solstice is the THING! Each year brings us two, and we honor them both. It is a time filled with beauty, magic and joy, and regardless where we are in our lives, how modern, how digitalized, how urbanized – we feel it, love it and cherish it year after year, century after century, and millennia after millennia.
As there are many sources available, if you are interested in the traditions and beliefs that accompany the summer solstice celebrations in Estonia, I will not attempt to write about these here and have instead listed some links below. The truth is, I simply need to shut the computer now, and finish packing – the Midsummer celebrations are waiting for me! Head Jaanipäeva!