In Estonia, the Midsummer festivities are as popular as Christmas, and probably just as important. Every summer, St John’s Eve (Jaanilaupäev) is celebrated on June 23 and St John’s Day (Jaanipäev) June 24. It is a celebration filled with fun activities, Estonian music, good food and company, traditions, magic, and romance.
Here are six ways you too can join the festivities and experience a true Estonian Midsummer.
1. Go to a jaanituli (bonfire) on St John’s Eve
Take part in local midsummer bonfire festivals on the eve of June 23 at Viimsi Open Air Museum and Toompark. For the most traditional St John’s Eve festivities, go to the Estonian Open Air Museum. These celebrations show what Midsummer means in Estonia. You’ll get to see bonfires, enjoy music and dance performances, eat good food, play midsummer games and meet locals. At the Estonian Open Air museum you’ll get to swing in the village swing with locals dressed in traditional folk costumes.
Estonians are quite superstitious and have many beliefs related to midsummer and especially bonfires. For example, according to legend, if you don’t go to jaanituli it will bring you misfortune; your house may burn down! You should walk from your home to the bonfire for good health. Once you get there go around the bonfire three times, then do another three rounds backwards. This will bring you great success, it is believed.
If you have something to throw into the fire as a sacrifice, it could be a small branch or flower wreath, then all your wishes will come true. The fire and smoke will also give you strength for the coming summer and year. It also brings relief to injuries and back pains. This is why older people sometimes sit with their backs turned to the fire.
3. Enjoy and have fun!
Eat: If you are trying to have an authentic Estonian St John's Eve you should traditionally eat something with dairy, like pastries with quark, cheese etc. Nowadays, however, the staple of Estonian summer dishes are shashlik, barbequed meat, sausages and vegetables served with potatoes and fresh salad made with sour cream, tomatoes and cucumber. Yum!
Flush them down with cooling kvass (bread drink) or local beer. In the olden days, every man used to brew his own beer for midsummer, so true to tradition, taste some of the products of the local craft breweries, including for example the popular Põhjala, Lehe, Pühaste, Tanker, and Sori.
Play: Dance around the bonfire and sing along to Estonian pop music, nostalgic schlagers and mesmerising folk music. Take part in local traditional midsummer games and sway in the big village swing. If possible, go to the sauna. In the sauna you should use a traditional viht, or a bunch of leafy birch branches, to gently beat yourself and stimulate your skin, or get a friend to help if you prefer. It relaxes your muscles and feels good, believe it or not. If the viht causes leaves to stick to your skin, you can use them to make someone fall in love with you. Ain’t the Estonian midsummer great?
Don’t sleep: This is the shortest night of the year, the sun barely sets. Make the most of it and stay up all night. Children love midsummer especially because they are also allowed to stay up until dawn. If it doesn’t rain in the night it will bring everyone good luck! So cross your fingers!
4. Search for the fern flower
It is a common misconception that ferns don’t bloom, but actually they do, once every year. And yes, you guessed it right, ferns bloom on St John’s Eve, but only for a short moment. You should be totally focused on this mission, as if you get distracted you’ll miss your chance. The one who finds the fern flower will instantly gain wealth, new abilities and will understand the secret languages of animals.
5. Jump over the bonfire
While you have been looking for the rare flower, the bonfire has almost gone out. This is the perfect time to jump over the bonfire. It will bring you happiness and health. A little advice on the romantic side: think about the one you love while you jump over the fire, and they will fall in love with you!
6. Roll in the morning dew
The dawn of St John’s Day is special. You can feel the dewy grass under your toes. The dew has a magical power, use it to wash your face to gain beauty, or turn a somersault on the ground to avoid back injuries. You can also collect the dew in a small bottle and take it home with you. Store it out of direct sunlight and you can use it for up to 50 years and it won’t lose its magical power.
7. Meet the love of your life in your dreams
Before heading to bed in the morning collect nine different flowers from the meadows and forests. You should do this alone and secretly for the magic to work. Place the flowers under your pillow and you’ll see your future love in your dream. This method has been shown to work by many Estonians!
8. Find a friend in Jaan!
There are almost 5000 men named Jaan in Estonia. So you are bound to meet a Jaan while staying in Estonia. Jaan is the Estonian version of John and Jaanipäev (St John’s Day) is the day of the Jaans. Famous Jaans include Jaan Tõnisson (politician), Jaan Poska (politician), Jaan Teemant (politician), Jaan Kross (writer), Jaan Koort (sculptor), Jaan Kaplinski (poet), Jaan Pehk (musician), and Jaan Tätte (artist), to name but a few. So go and find yourself a Jaan on Jaanipäev!
If outdoor activities and jumping over bonfires are not really your cup of tea, you can always spend the day museum-hopping and enjoying the white nights while wandering around the city. Just keep in mind that, as June 23 and 24 are public holidays in Estonia, the opening hours of different attractions can vary. Tallinn Card, the city's favourite sightseeing pass, has compiled you a list of various museums open during the holidays.