The Feast of the Dews

Lurking behind almost every Christian holiday on the Lithuanian calender is a pagan tradition thinly disguised. My ancestors, you see, were very late to the game on Christianity, accepting it in 1387 primarily as a political move. And one of the things I love most about Lithuanian culture are these stubborn remnants of the forest primeval that still manifest in feasts, songs, and traditions today.

Take, for example, the Summer Solstice, which now masquerades in Lithuania as the Feast of Saint John (on June 24th). In ancient times, the summer solstice (also known as “Kupol?” and “Rasos” or “Feast of the Dews”) was all about fertility, the power of medicinal herbs, and the assurance of a good harvest for the coming year.

Magical things were said to happen in the forest on midsummer’s night.

The fern flowered at midnight and was said to bring luck in life and love.

People took turns jumping over bonfires to ward off sickness of all kinds.

Young people made wreaths out of flowers and threw them into the river to see whose wreaths joined. Do I even need to tell you what it means when two wreaths join?

The maidens who didn’t stay up all night tried to rise before dawn so they could wash their faces with the morning dew, which was considered magical and restorative only on the morning of midsummer’s night.

And there was a lot of hocus-pocus in the bushes.

Of course, the traditions have evolved over the years. I don’t think anyone in Lithuania washes her face with morning dew anymore, but I do know that there is still singing, drinking, wreath-weaving and making out in the forest on midsummer’s Eve. And my friend Chef V tells me that if your name is Jonas or Janina, you can drink in any Lithuanian bar on this night for free.

So happy summer solstice! May your tushie not touch the fire when you jump over it tonight.

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12 thoughts on “The Feast of the Dews

  1. Vicki

    I love, love, love Slavic pagan holidays. We have the same Kupala in Russian. Now I’m bummed I didn’t celebrate it yesterday by drinking two bottles of champagne and trying to make a wreath.

  2. Becca

    I also love it when you write about your culture! You already knew that. Is J going to go out a-drinking to celebrate for free?

  3. Kate

    I always learn new things when I visit your blog, Rima. You build such a descriptive narrative. I’m now captivated by Lithuania and want to go there. and be from there.

  4. Polish Mama on the Prairie

    We totally do this as well! Don’t tell my parents, though. They are not-observant Catholics but when I tell them I am going to celebrate a Pagan Polish holiday, they get all worried. Wonder if I can get my dad to babysit so my husband and I can go “drop wreathes” in a local pond…

  5. Sara

    Ah yes, we Swedes drink aquavit and eat potatoes and herring and … wait, that sounds just like every other holiday we do, too. Hmmph.

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