The night of June 23, or Midsummer, is the shortest night of the year and, as in many countries around the world and Europe, it has been celebrated in Lithuania for centuries. This year is no exception. In this short article, we’ll try to briefly picture what to expect if you’re getting ready to celebrate it for the first time in your life. Good choice!
The ones having the most fun during Midsummer in Lithuania are people named Jonas (John) and Janina (the female version of John). It’s because the already very traditional festivity of summer solstice aimed at protecting the harvest from evil souls, witches, draught and thunder, was renamed to St. John’s day after Christianity came to Lithuania. The feast itself is now quite traditionally called Joninės but Rasos, the traditional Baltic version meaning ‘dews’, is also still used.
Most of the traditional elements of the night come from pre-Christian times. Probably the best-known tradition of the Midsummer night is looking for the non-existent (yet very symbolic) fern blossom that is supposed to appear during the summer solstice. To search for it, you go to the woods, preferably with your significant other, and use your imagination.
Other traditions include singing and dancing until the wee hours, jumping over bonfires (those tend to be very tall so do it at your own risk!) and washing your face with early morning dew. Don’t forget to let your flower wreath go into a river or lake after you wear it all night.
The Joninės bonfires can be spotted in various places and neighbourhoods around Kaunas on the night of June 23, as it’s one of the most celebrated holidays of the year. And… June 24 is a public holiday!
On Sunday, June 23, 2019, we recommend joining the Midsummer festivities at “Parakas” (Šančiai microdistrict, corner of Prancūzų and L. Ivinskio streets), a former gunpowder warehouse of the Kaunas fortress. The rehouse has been reborn as a creative cultural space open for various artistic initiatives. The programme of the shortest night of the year will be compiled of those who replied to an open call, and it’ll most involve music, dancing, performing and having a blast. We’re particularly looking forward to seeing Zan Hoffman, an American musician currently residing in Kaunas whom we interviewed last year (here’s the article!). The festivities at “Parakas” start as early as 4 pm.
For an even more authentic experience, head to the remote 3rd Fort of the Kaunas Fortress. The local community have been celebrating Joninės there for a few years now; they also help cleaning and restoring the fort. Join them to search for the fern blossom and other traditional shenanigans. The program will start at 8 pm.
Also at 8 pm, the major Midsummer celebration of our city will kick off at the Kaunas castle. A handful of folk, folk rock and post folklore musicians and bands will perform there. After the musical part, the crowds will move to the confluence of Neris and Nemunas rivers to take part in traditional rituals including making wreaths, sharing bread etc.
On Monday, June 24, you can experience a lot of Lithuanian traditions in the Open-Air Museum of Lithuania in Rumšiškės, a small town near Kaunas. A Joninės day party will be held there from 1 pm.