You could spend a month at a health resort or opt instead for one night in Lithuania to heal all your ailments, take 20 years off your appearance and reveal your future. How is this possible, you say? On the night of June 24th, everything is possible. It’s like Christmas, only in summer.
Nature was worshipped in Lithuania for centuries. Before the country became Christianised, Lithuanians were pagans who praised and venerated nature. They believed in nature deities because they were wholly dependent on nature and its whims.
It’s said that when the Teutonic Knights came to Lithuania in the 13th century, they were frightened to enter forests even in the daytime. They believed that the forests were swarming with devils and demons that could grab passers-by and carry them off, never to be seen again. Many legends were told about Lithuanian customs and the local reverence for nature. Newcomers believed that the health, beauty and bravery of Lithuanian people were gifts from the wondrous and generous nature of Lithuania.
Times have changed, however, and now we can share all the wonders of nature with you, good traveller. All you need to do is come to Lithuania on June 23rd and join us for an exceptional midsummer celebration. Let us put it simply: you could spend a month at a health resort or opt instead for one night in Lithuania to heal all your ailments, take 20 years off your appearance and reveal your future. How is this possible, you say? On this night, everything is possible. It’s like Christmas, only in summer.
It’s a magical night that all Lithuanians wait impatiently for just as their ancestors did – the shortest night of the year, the sun’s victory against night and darkness. On this night, vegetation seems more lush and luxuriant than ever, with every single tiny plant reaching maturity, ready to create new life. It’s a celebration of rebirth for nature and every living creature.
Rasos, Kupolės & Joninės
In the past, the celebration was called Rasos, a name derived from rasa – the glistening droplets of dew that cover meadows at daybreak. It was believed that washing your face with dew collected from rye could rejuvenate the skin. Dew was also used to moisten the bed linen of the sick in the belief it would return them to health. It was also used to water vegetable gardens as it was thought to make the soil more fertile. It was even given to animals to drink.
At one point this special night was called Kupolės because in the evening people traditionally picked medicinal herbs – an activity called kupoliavimas. It was believed that on this night medicinal herbs acquire their healing properties. They would later be used to brew teas or placed near the roof. St. John’s wort picked on Joninės was said to cure 99 kinds of illness.
After Christianisation, the celebrations were associated with the birth of St. John the Baptist, and named Joninės (from Jonas – the Lithuanian equivalent of John). The century-long traditions and mystical rituals were not forgotten, however, so let us give you a few tips on how to make the best use of the magic of Joninės so you’ll return home healthy, rested, revived and who knows, maybe with your newfound other half.
Mystical healing rituals
As you arrive at the festivities, you must first walk through the special gates of Kupolės, which are decorated with herbs. Walking through the gates is a symbol of rebirth, and as you pass, you might be asked to dance or sing a song, but let us tell you a little secret – a smile will do just fine.
Unmarried girls must make a wreath from nine or twelve different herbs before midnight – it’s not only a traditional accessory, but also a mystical charm to draw the attention of your true love. The wreath is later set afloat on a river, and the faster the current carries it, the sooner the girl will get married.
One of the main rituals is the lighting of the fire. The fire is lit on a high hill at dusk and kept burning all through the night until dawn. It’s believed that the lighter the fields are, the greater the harvest will be. Another important custom is jumping over the fire of Joninės, as jumping guarantees good health and cleanses you of your sins. So it’s essential to jump over the fire, but wait until it dies down of course! If you jump holding hands with your loved one, you’ll get married the same year.
The most important and mysterious tradition of Joninės night is the search for the fern flower. The fern is said to bloom at midnight and anyone who finds its flower, which only blooms for a short moment, will gain incredible power – they’ll understand all the mysteries of nature, read minds, see what’s invisible and acquire wealth and lasting happiness. Traditionally, people are supposed to look for the fern flower alone, but for some reason most people return in pairs!
If it happens that you’re not allowed to jump over fires, make wreaths, or search for fern flowers, don’t worry – simply being part of this ancient Lithuanian celebration will fill you with long-lasting positive emotions and good energy. It’s crucial to stay up all night and see the sun rise. You can return to your hotel in the morning – by then you’ll be charged with enough mystical healing energy for the whole year. What, only for a year, you say? Well of course – you’ll return next year!
It’s a great experience to celebrate Joninės/Rasos at the State Cultural Reserve of Kernavė or at Rumšiškės Ethnic Open Air Museum. Either way, the whole country will be celebrating and you’re very welcome to join in.
Celebrating Rasos at the State Cultural Reserve of Kernavė
A traditional midsummer night celebration at one of the most enchanting places in Lithuania, a UNESCO World Heritage site, situated by the ancient mounds. Kernavė is the historic capital of pagan Lithuania; a place where one can truly experience the ancient Baltic spirit and feel in touch with nature deities.
June 23rd, State Cultural Reserve of Kernavė, Širvintai district, Kernavė
Celebrating Kupolės in Nida
The tradition of celebrating Kupolės comes back to life in the Tylos (Silence) Valley at the foot of Parnidžio dune. Here people gather herbs, weave grass diadems and sing Joninė’s songs. The last rays of the sun are gathered during a ceremony near a sundial. One the most beautiful moments of the celebration is the march with torches from the Parnidžio dunes to the Nidas dock where a special concert for Joninė’s takes place.
June 23rd, various locations, Nida, Neringa
Celebrating Joninės at Rumšiškės Ethnic Open Air Museum
Coming to Rumšiškės is like entering a time machine. The museum is a reconstruction of rural Lithuanian life of a century ago, and so the celebrations here are just as lively and cheerful as they were in the good old days. You’ll be singing and dancing around the fire all through the night.
June 24, Rumšiškės Ethnic Open Air Museum, Rumšiškės, Kaunas district
This article was written by Evaldas Činga for Good Mood Travel Magazine.