Known as Jāņi (Latvian for 'John') or Ligo (meaning 'Festival'), this Latvian public holiday is celebrated each year on 23 June. The actual date of Midsummer day may vary between the 20-21 June. The following day, St John's Day is also a public holiday. Depending on what day of the week, these holidays fall on, then additional bridge holidays may also be declared.
Jāņi marks the summer solstice and the shortest night of the year and it has become one of the most important holidays in Latvia.
At the summer solstice, the northern hemisphere is tilted at its maximum angle towards the sun resulting in the maximum amount of hours of daylight.
Since ancient times, this midsummer day has been observed and celebrated by many cultures. In the agricultural calendar, it was a time to celebrate the sowing of the crops and enjoy the short break before harvest began. In Northern Europe, its effects are more pronounced with very long days, which of course is contrasted six months later when the winter solstice (Ziemassvētki) results in very long nights in that part of the world.
In astronomical terms, the longest day of the year takes places on either 20 June or 21 June. With the Christianisation of Latvia, Jāņi was moved to the day before St. John's Day.
The day before Jāņi is called 'Herbal day' (Zāļu diena), when people will gather up the flowers and plants that will be used to make bouquets and wreaths to be worn on Jāņi. Women wear wreaths made from flowers, while men wear ones made with twigs or leaves. It is a holiday to celebrate with dancing, singing , eating and drinking being the order of the day.
One custom is to jump over bonfires, which is an ancient tradition associated with other festivals around the world, such as Parsi, the Persian New Year.
During the Soviet era, celebration of ethnic holidays such as Jāņi were suppressed by the authorities as they were seen as nationalistic when focus should be on the Soviet Union as a collective.
Since independence in 1990, the holiday has been reinstated and the (at least) two day break for Jāņi and St. John's Day has proved a popular holiday period for Latvians to take some time off and enjoy the weather at this time of year.