Q: Summer was evidently a very busy time for farmers. Was there any entertainment in summer?
A: Yes, of course. It was short and everybody had to prepare for a cold winter but midsummer was and still is important.

MIDSUMMER DAY (St. John’s Day  -  Jaanipäev) June 24
Midsummer Eve or the night of June 23 is important for the Estonians.

People heated saunas and made special sauna whisks
   jaanivihad .     Homes as well as bonfire and swing areas were decorated with birch branches. To ensure a lovely, clear complexion, people went to springs to wash their faces.
They played games requiring strength and deftness – sack races and tugs-of-war – and danced. Running and chasing games like the last couple out (tagumine paar välja) were also popular.

Bonfires were lit. Jaani fires were believed to have a purifying and magic effect.
Men with the name Jaan (John) were held in special regard at these bonfires. Jaani songs called on people to band together and guard the fire well; it was important that the villagers stuck together. It was said that those who did not come to the bonfire would have ‘barley full of thistle and oats full of bent’.

Village swings were enjoyed with great vigour.
Women and children made chaplets of flowers and wore them round their heads. Young females, who wanted to get married, picked nine different flowers, made a chaplet  and put it on at midnight at a crossroads – after this they were not allowed to talk to anyone or look back. The chaplet was placed under their pillow for the night.

Fern flowers were sought out. Glow-worms have also been called fern flowers.

Midsummer Day marked the beginning of hay-making.

Traditional food:


People make whisks and go to the
saunaA comment by an Englishman: I have just had a look at your sauna pictures. Now, let me get this right: you boil yourselves in a sauna, then you whip yourselves with birch sticks, then you go and roll in the snow. Are there any intelligent life-forms in Estonia? mostly in the countryside but also in towns.

A jaani bonfire is built quite high. Young people try to jump over it.

It is customary to find out how many men named Jaan have come to the party. (Jaan is a common name in Estonia and Midsummer Day means Jaanipäev, i.e. Jaan’s day in Estonian.)

As a rule, local dance groups, choirs and ensembles give concerts at jaani bonfires. Old dances are also quite popular, especially those that allow the audience to join in. Dance music is played by ensembles though one-man and two-man bands have become very popular.

The singing part of the programmes is not only limited to old folk songs.
Competitive games and contests are held.  Swings are a natural part of Midsummer Eve.

Many families build a small fire in their own garden or drive to a scenic place to have a picnic. They barbecue meat and sausages on the fire and drink beer.


barley full of thistle and oats full of bent  - odrad ohakased, kaerad kasteheinased
bonfire – jaanituli
chaplet of flowers  - lillepärg
fern flower  - sõnajalaõis
glow-worm  - jaaniussike
home-made ale - koduõlu
Midsummer Eve - jaanilaupäev
sauna whisk – jaaniviht
spring - allikas
sack race - kotisjooks
tug-of-war - köievedu


Exercise 5