Welcome to Lithuania's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream:' Joninės!
Since I'm going to be out of town next weekend, I wanted to share a blog post about something I've been excited about since before I moved here: Joninės, or Rasos. At this point last year, I knew I was moving to Lithuania, and it was a huge leap of faith into an unknown. But if you've learned anything from my blog, it's that I'm up for an adventure and I have an interest in nature-centered cultures.
I waited almost a year to get here, so let me explain.
In America, we celebrate the first day of summer, otherwise known as the Summer Solstice. Some celebrate with bonfires, ritual, prayer, dancing, but it's never been a uniform celebration like the Fourth of July - certainly no bank holiday. Over in England, thousands gather in community at Stonehenge, just one of many celebrations around the world for the longest day of the year.
But in Lithuania, it goes one step further.
Here, there is a huuuge celebration called Joninės (St. John's Day) or Rasos. If you're wondering what's up with the two names, well, you have Christianity to thank for that one: Joninės is the Christian name change from the pagan Rasos, meaning "dew." And unlike the equinox events I attended or Žolinė - although they are popular - nothing compares to Joninės or Rasos. Everyone knows about it, like they know about Shakespeare. If your name is John or some derivative, congratulations: it's your day. And depending on who you are, it's either a gorgeous celebration of culture or a reason to party with your friends all night... or both.
We all know by now that Lithuania didn't fall to Christianity very easily, and even after that precipice, the old ways never really disappeared. These days, whether you call it Rasos or Joninės, it's a huge cultural celebration of bonfires, wreath-making, community, and a search for forest ferns. (That search is pretty symbolic, because it offers young people time to be alone in the forest. You know how it is.)
In older times, Rasos was documented as lasting for at least fourteen days, and today it's a national holiday. So, what happened in between? In ancient traditions, dew typically heralded and symbolized life, and the correlation of dew to the solstice morning gave an insight or prediction into the new year's harvest. Bathing in dew increased one's beauty or attraction, and I suspect there was a fertility element, as well. This was a joyous festival, no doubt. There was and is also a huge flower wreath element here - and I wonder if that symbolizes femininity and community. I've seen plenty of pictures of Lithuanians at Rasos wearing crowns of herbs or flowers. And in fact, according to Lithuanian lore, flowers and herbs are at the zenith of their magic and protective power right before and at Rasos. You could even say they're ripe with magic.
Source: Julius Kalinskas
But many of these flowers and herbs are also used to open the spiritual space and gathered on a pole similar to a May Pole. Called a kupolė, this pole marks the entrance of summer, acting as a world tree surrounded by sutartinė, or - if you remember - Lithuanian polyphonic chants. (My favorite!) And of course, there can be romance related to the kupolė, similar to bridesmaids throwing a bride's bouquet for good luck.
Like many pagan festivals, crops are a huge inspiration. Some Lithuanians pay homage to rye and bread, since healthy crops equals healthy food equals a healthy and prosperous community. So many of these traditions come back to celebration of and for nature - even, a reverence for nature. And once sunset finally arrives, more songs are sung in praise and celebration to the sun. Some people even jump over a bonfire, because: fire and fortitude go hand in hand. If you remember from my Autumn Equinox, I got to experience some burning effigies related to ancient goddesses, and I'm curious if I'll see more of the same. Either way, fire plays a huge role in this celebration.
So, you can see that this holiday truly continues to marinate in some strong pagan roots, whether you're partying or not. Even during the heyday of the Soviet Union, people celebrated Rasos despite significant risk - that's how deep-rooted it is in their culture. I personally can't wait to celebrate with friends, come summer solstice - which is celebrated a couple of days later here, on June 23 to 24. A true communion with nature.
And on that note, major thanks to my Romuva friends for the great information on Rasos from a real-time perspective.
If you know about any other countries or cultures that have a unique Summer Solstice celebration, let me know in the comments or over at @intotheforestsigo on Instagram.
And since I'll be out next week, I hope you have a great week and weekend, and I'll have plenty of adventures to share when I return. Trust me on that. :)
Until next time, viso gero, my friends, and be kind to one another. Viso!