This coming Saturday, I have the fortune to fly out to Tallinn, Estonia for a week celebrate Jaanipäev or the Midsummer Solstice (also called St. John's Eve). With the aid of the Bartlett Travel Scholarship through the Newcastle University Art Department, I will conduct a week's worth of research on the holiday focusing on the folklore traditions surrounding the solstice and examining how the role of narratives have changed over the last couple centuries. Many of the midsummer customs have folkloric roots, including: jumping over bonfires, hunting for enchanted ferns, prediction of future spouses, swinging songs and dances, games, and the sharing of fairy tales. Jaanipäev is celebrated a couple days after the longest day, on the 23-24th of June and is arguably the largest holiday of the Estonian Year (contending only with Christmas). All three Baltic States take this time to celebrate their pagan roots and the wildlife of their countries. I am very excited to go to a country that is immersed in sun for 18 hours a day and both learn about and engage with the celebrations.
My plan is to fly into Tallinn and spend the first two days in the city learning about the historical elements of the solstice and meeting with 3-4 residents I've met through Couchsurfers. I have found at least nine Tallinn residents who are willing to show me the city and tell me about their experience with Jaanipäev. Couchsurfers has been such a great resource for me in this project and is aiding me in finding local research and perspectives.
One couchsurfer, Marge, has been so wonderful as to allow me to stay with her and for 3-4 days we will travel with her friends to Eastern Estonia, to Muhu Island, to celebrate with the local rural communities. I could ask for nothing more than to be invited to celebrate authentically with future friends. I am so thrilled to have this opportunity. For the last couple days of my trip, I plan to continue south with Marge before returning to Tallinn. In the following couple of posts I will share some of my research and lots of photographs, so look forward to some fire hoping and camping images!
So at last, in anticipation of my coming travel project, below is one of my favorite, thus far uncovered, stories about Jaanipäev. Hopefully in a couple of weeks, my list will have grown much longer.
THE TWO LOVERS
Koit (Dawn) and Hämarik (Dusk or Twilight) are two ancient lovers of the sky. Bound together, in counterbalance, the two have been forced apart by both the day and night. Doomed to spend their immortal existence apart, they spend their time gravitating closer and further apart again.
But once a year, and only once, as midnight draws near on the longest day, Hämarik offers his hand to Koit as the lightest night of the year awaits. Then Dawn and Dusk exchange the briefest, fleeting kiss. This kiss marks the shortest night and the longest day, as their love pushes away the darkness. The two lovers' kiss is celebrated by the people of earth, for their love brings light and prosperity to the lands. And it is the knowledge of their returning embrace that keeps hope alive through the darkest of winters.