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.Subscribe to the blog. (It's free!)