A. Midsummer as the Great Calendar Holiday

The great festival times were also times for people to assemble. Assembly places were Elka kalni (Idol hills) and sacred groves, that is, in wild nature; assembly during the most inopportune wintertime was left out. (Adamovičs: 99)


Jāņja diena svēta diena aiz visām dieniņām.

Jāņja dienu Dieva dēls(i) Saules meitu sveicināja.


Jāņu māte rudzus brida, Brūnu kleitu pacēlusi;

Kur norāva vienu vārpu, Divas auga tai vietā.


Midsummer day is sacred day above all days.

On Midsummer day the Sky son(s) greeted the Sun daughter

Midsummer mother was wading the rye, with lifted skirts;

When one ear was torn off, two grew in its place.

The greatest holiday in the Latvian calendar is Jāņi or Līgo svētki, Midsummer (in Latvian always in the plural), now an official national holiday, with more recorded songs than any other festival (over 35,000). The Summer Solstice has also been most resistant to political as well as religious pressure to change its basic patterns. As practiced in recent times the festival seems a simplified, secularized versions that leaves in question specific practices, which are known to have been elaborated as part of a different pre-industrial way of life. They have come to be less sacred celebrations and something closer to modern international celebrations, perhaps ranging from picnics to concert performances to raves, depending on the celebrants. As the calendar celebration evoking maximum emotion, it is even more obvious that it has meant different things to different people in different times and places while at the same time being magic Midsummmer to all, and a unity or at least assembly of contradictions. It is a day when witches and dangerous others are about in full power, but joy and life triumph.

In addition to descriptions collected by ethnographers, there are endless descriptions in literature starting with German observations and going on through Latvian initiation into writing to modern times. Velta Rūķe Draviņa has collected some of them in her book Jāņi latviešu literatūrā (Midsummer in Latvian Literature). For many Latvians it is the most deeply Latvian celebration where even today a human being feels connected to plants, animals, other humans, and the sun herself. Even today it is seen as the most distinctly non-Christian holiday. In the past Midsummer concentrated a number of very important functions. These include calendar adjustments, the possible initiation or at least the special activity of magic users and the gathering of healing herbs, the transfer of vitalizing forces from the wild or Otherworld to the domestic sphere, and erotic activity that seems to have roots in archaic betrothal practices and marks a cosmic wedding as the high point of the year just as the human wedding is considered to be the high point between birth and death on the human level.

Scholars differ if the name of the Midsummer god used today, Jānis, straightforwardly derives from the Christian St. John or is related to Indo-European deities (such as Indian Devajana, Etruscan Jaanus), or if one similar sounding word was associated with another from a different tradition. The linguists Karulis and E. Lauberte connect the word Yanis with the Indo-European deity of light, passageways, roads, and gates to which Christianity attached the similar sounding St. John. According to the dainas, the Midsummer god rides all year and arrives only on Midsummer. He doesn’t seem to have any characteristics of a Christian saint. Scholars, like K. Straubergs, consider Jānis to be a vegetation and fertility god, while others such as J. Klētnieks considers him to represent the star Sirius that used to shine most brightly at Midsummer. H. Biezais points out that the central deity honored is the Sun goddess and considers modern focus on Jānis more so than his bride or wife, to be a displacement. The bridegroom of the sun differs from song to song and region to region, but he is always known as the sky son, dominantly today as Jānis, but also from alternative versions the Thunder god Pērkons, or the sky god Dievs. All of these sky gods are associated with the oak tree and bringing down power and fertility from heaven to earth. Even today, Midsummer is celebrated as an exceptional day with strong erotic aspects, and recognized as central in mythology involving a cosmic wedding cycle, perhaps earlier a betrothal and sexual initiation, but later a wedding closer to more recent practice. I. Leinasare argues that around the 5th – 9th centuries Midsummer was a girl’s set initiation into womanhood, followed by Laidene on July 2 when she acquired the status of wife. (p. 62-78) According to her, wedding practices as recognized in historical times and with a more patriarchal cast began in the 10th century, which she seems to base on such data as Latgalian women’s burials being accompanied by a knife whose position on the left (unmarried) or right (married) indicated her status. Leinsare’s interpretation seems to resonate somewhat to the function of the spring betrothal singing contests in some Chinese provinces.

The oldest historical sources also seem to suggest Midsummer and Christmas as the two most prominent times of a gathering of different peoples for celebration. The oldest division of the year is in halves, summer and winter. Spring is seen as a transition time, the period of sowing as opposed to reaping. The question if and when it was possible to predict the solstice is yet to be determined along with the question of the role of time keeping, which still has to be evaluated. Contrary to previous assertions that the people who became Latvians did not have a specialist priest class, Arturs Goba published the private collection of Ojārs Ozoliņš compiled in the 20th century that suggests there were time or calendar-keepers, burtnieki or zintnieki, in 13th century north-eastern Latvia. Because adjustments between lunar and solar measurements were necessary, they were responsible for announcing the times of festival assembly. Certain celebrations and magic practices were tied into public meetings held on elevated ground. (Goba, 1990) Even if Easter may have at some time and in some regions been more important, there was one great winter and one great summer celebration in the Baltic. In at least recent centuries, Midsummer has displayed the whole complex of a mythological belief system characteristic of Indo-European peoples in the celebrating of the sun, the source of warmth and light visible in the sky, at her zenith and greatest strength.

Ever since Barons organized the dainas around the course or rhythm of human life (marked by celebrations godi) paralleled by the cycle of the year and symbolized by the path of the sun (marked by holidays svētki), there has been no serious disagreement in academic or popular discourse with this fundamental organizational concept of Latvian dainas, classical traditions, or cosmology. The year is most fundamentally divided into summer and winter, with spring adding a tripartite aspect. Fall, as a separate concept, is a latecomer, not particularly defined in the daina world and most confused as to which holidays are its primary markers.


Ziema nāca raudādama, Cimdu, zeķu prasīdama;

Vasariņa, laba māte, Tā maizītes devējiņa. (LTDz IV, 13441)

Winter came weeping, asking for mittens and socks.

Summer is a good mother; she is a giver of bread.

There have been a number of works systematizing the specifics of the Latvian traditional calendar (cf Brastiņš 1929, Grīns and Grīns 1983, Goba 1990, Olupe 1992, Šterna 1989), but their specifics would be outside my scope, particularly since there is still disagreement on some important points. But it may be summarized that Latvian peoples historically, like other Balts and their neighbors, used a luni-solar calendar based on the monthly movements of the moon and the yearly movements of the sun. The modern sense of mēness meaning "month" as well as "moon" seems to be recent, the etymology of "moon" being connected to "time-measure". The focus seems to be on the equivalent to the weeks, which some see in the term savaite, a unit of five days with the last piektā noted and observed as a pause or rest, piektvakars. In this way of measuring time, there would be six units in each monthly measure. The yearly cycle is divided into almost equal eight parts (with nine five-day units each adjusted in the summer) as symbolized by the sun sign, which approximates what is known in the West as the rosette. It is among the most commonly used symbols in Latvian traditional textile and other art and has been used among the signs Latvian groups have used as "recognition signs". In between the eight divisions were calendar festivals, four major and four secondary. According to Šterna, "The ancient Balts used (as a foundation, though there were other calendric cycles) the three-year cycle which consisted of two ‘short’ twelve-moth years and one ‘leap’ thirteen-month year." (p. 274, 277). As the calendar introduced from the south by Christianity came into use, the old solstice and equinox holidays shifted and acquired names related to the Christian saints, some of which may have etymologically resembled the original names (Jāņi for Midsummer called St. John’s day but connectable to an Indo-European calendar and boundary deity, such as the Roman Yanus). Šterna equates the term laikgadi with the holidays that are associated with the lunar time-measurement (such as: Ash Day – a boisterous mumming day, Animal/ Insect Waking Day, Cabbage Day, Leaf Day, Hail Day, Thunder Day, Laidene, Fire Day, Day of Shades, Sheep Day, Horse Day, Pig Day, Cow Day). (Šterna: 275, 277)

G. Merkel in his Vidzemes senatne gives a lengthy description of Midsummer as one of saderības and sadraudzības (the meeting and engagement of marriageable people).


Ai, bagāta Jāņa diena, Atved man arājiņu;

Ja ved jaunu, tad ved skaistu, Ja ved vecu, tad bagātu. (33078)

Visu mūžu pieminēšu, Ko dabūju Jāņu nakti:

Es dabūju sirmu zirgu, Sirma zirga jājējiņu. (33126, 8)

Ozoliņa zaru laužu, Jāņa nakti līgodama;

Dievs dod man citu gadu Nolauzt pašu ozoliņu. (33127)

Oh, rich Yani-day, bring me a ploughman;

If you bring me a young one, then handsome; if an old one, then rich.

All life I will remember what I got on Midsummer night:

I got a gray horse, a gray horse rider.


I broke an oak branch ligo-singing Midsummer night;

God willing another year, I will break the oak tree itself.

Breaking the oak branch can be interpreted as a double entendre. One possible interpretation of the song, considering the context, is that on Midsummer there was a sexual initiation and betrothal promise with the expectation of a wedding following. It goes without saying that betrothal promises were taken most seriously as contracts and a man’s honor depended on him keeping his promises. There was strong social pressure and sanction to keep them. That there was a risk to contracts with people who didn’t share the same values, perhaps as customs changed and Christian values increasingly became dominant is illustrated by the dainas that warn a girl not to loose her wreath (girl’s honor):


Ne mūžā nedabūju, Kas pazuda Jāņa nakti:

Pazūd mans meitu gods, Pazūd zīļu vainadzinjš. (33123)

Jāņu nakti, meitiņ, sargi Savu puķu vainadziņu,

Nakts ir silta, galva karsta, Novīst puķu vainadzinš. (33096)

I never regained what was lost on Midsummer night:

I lost my girl honor; I lost my acorned wreath.


On Midsummer night, girl, save your wreath of flowers,

The night is warm, the head is hot, the flower wreath wilts.

Some songs say this is the day the Sky son proposes to the Sun daughter, and on this day she dances (rotā). However, the revelry is also general as the often-quoted infamous song is usually interpreted: "On Midsummer’s Day I did not know, who was wife and who was maid. All were wearing wreaths of oak." The refrain līgo, characteristic of Midsummer songs, relates to the rhythmical swinging back and forth motion of the sun. It also represents the end of spring and the beginning of summer, with the cutting of hay. The celebration is also especially joyful because it comes just before intensive farm-work is about to begin. There is continuity in the period from Midsummer Jāņi (22 – 25 July) and going through to Pēteŗi (July 29). While the latter has the Christian name of St. Peter, it may originally be associated with Pērkons (Thunder), one of the alternate sky son bridegrooms of the Sun.

As all the festivals, Jāņi is ushered in by songs "First the herders, then the ploughmen, afterwards the young girls; finally the mother gathering Jāņi herbs.” At the end of the celebration Midsummer will also be ushered out by song, “We see off Midsummer day to the hills beyond. We will await another year for you to return.” The day before Jāņi is known as zāļu diena (grass or herb day). Everything is decorated with fresh boughs (birch boughs being more characteristic of Vasarsvētki at the end of the previous month, oak tending to replace at Midsummer). People gather Midsummer herbs and grasses, especially flowering ones (madder, sagebrush, clover, buldurjānis). The whole period of June is also known as the flower month. Oak leaf wreaths are preferred for men and flower and herb ones for women, especially young girls. Even the cows are given wreaths and wreaths may be placed in special places. The wreaths almost serve a similar function to that of masks; they primarily and the festival clothing secondarily, have the transformative power of attire to communicate a change in identity, that the celebrants have become "children" or identified with timeless mythical participants of this festival. Wreaths also contain the force and power of wild vegetation that can be transferred to domestic well-being and fertility:


Es savam Jāņa tēvam Likš' ozola vaiņadziņu,

Lai aug viņa kumeliņi Zemi resni kā ozoli. (32694)

Es savai Jāņa mātei Došu ziedu vaiņadziņu

Lai tai aug labas govis Ziedainām kājiņām. (32693)

I will give my Yani-father a green oak wreath,

So his colts grow low and fat like oak trees.


I will give my Yani-mother a flowered wreath

So cows will grow for her with flowered feet.

The mistress makes special Midsummer cheese in the shape of wheels and pīrāgi buns and other rolls, while the master of the household brews beer and slaughters a pig. Everything has to be put in order and cleaned – the tables and floors and windows, the paths have to be weeded. All animals have to be brought in from pasture as this night is especially charged also with the dangerous supernatural. Wreaths on their heads, the householders first sing songs about all things – fields, animals, and people about them, but particularly the master and mistress. This is called aplīgošana. The master offers beer and the mistress offers Midsummer cheese to the celebrants, called "children." The celebrants go from farm to farm continuing the aplīgošana of everything and everyone, but in particular the master and mistress. If something is amiss, or the "children" are not properly made welcome, they retaliate with ridicule singing. Finally, everyone assembles, if possible, on the highest hill or knoll, or alternatively by a riverbank. Fires, either as wheels or as barrels filled with pitch and other flammable material are raised on poles so that they can be seen by those assembling at neighboring fires, as well as lit on the ground where they will last longer and pairs can jump over them for luck.

The holiday celebrates the efflorescence of nature and is also most obviously connected with the fertility of fields, animals, bees, and people. As in the rounds of the farms, the ceremonial "mother" or hostess (Jāņa māte) offers cheese and the Jāņa tēvs offers ceremonial beer. Additional to fire in the sky, water, particularly healing water and dew, is an important part of the holiday and it usually also rains around Midsummer. Apdziedāšanās takes place when the different processions from the surrounding farms all meet, usually dividing into two groups, male and female. Some responsorial exchange may also have taken place between the farm people and the visitors making rounds. There is also dancing, in the past chain dancing around the oak tree. During the night couples search for the blooming fern, which is reputed to bring knowledge, power, wealth, or happiness. It is a liminal night of revelry that neither Church nor Communist authorities were able to eliminate.

Midsummer is also the time witches and other supernatural beings against which precautions are taken (upturned scythes, sharp tools) are about.

Skrien ragana šķērsu gaisu, Manā sētā neieskriesi! Mana sēta dzelžiem kalta, Izkaptēm spāres celtas; Izkaptēm spāres celtas, Adatām jumti jumti, Izkaptēm nosagriezti, Adatām nosadurti.” (milk words)

Run, witch, across the sky. You won’t run into my yard. My yard is hammered with iron, the corners are built with scythes. The corners are built with scythes, the doors with needles. Cut with scythes, Pierced with needles. (Latviešu buramie vārdi I: 265)


Jāņu nakti negulēju, Sav’ telīti sargādama:
Jāņu nakti raganiņas Pulcēties pulcējās



On Midsummer night I did not sleep, guarding my calf:

On Midsummer night the witches were assembling.

Livestock were in special danger from witches and skauģi (envious ones): " I fixed a scythe in the cattle-yard. So the witch might get cut down in her fast flight." Yānis rides his horse around the fields not only to bless them, but also to dispel hostile forces: “Sit rupučus, min ragaiņus, Tīri manu laidariņu.” [Beat toads, trample magicians; clean out my pasture.] (Jāņa vakars:10) In older Latvian tradition a toad is sacred as a form of the milk mother. The hostility in contrast to and in addition to other positive attitudes is repeated with witches, other magic users, and devils, as either a later, more Christianizied attitude, or possibly reflecting conflict among different magic-user groups or different supernatural conceptual schemes.

Muktupāvela has argued that the holiday preserves signs of shamanic pratices and that the magic blooming fern once chose the shaman or magic user during this night. Finding the blooming fern is being initiated into the supernatural and acquiring special, supernatural powers. Most often witches are mentioned in the dainas in connection with Midsummer. In the positive aspect of gathering medicinal herbs, they are healers and wise women. Such magic practices as circling the fields naked are also related to fertility.

Finding the blooming fern gives various powers, such as invisibility, or fulfills wishes. Its deepest interpretation is its symbol of cosmic creative power, specifically solar. Today, the most common interpretation of finding the bloom is sexual, but the greater context in the oldest information stress supernatural power. Considering that initiation into magic use was not the ordinary person’s concern, especially as witches were increasingly persecuted, a fusion of concepts considering the erotic nature of the festival is not remarkable.

In some broad terms, the great calendar festivals resemble each other, and apdziedāšanās was involved in some regions at other festivals than Midsummer. Unlike modern Christmas, which in recent times has become a quiet family holiday, the great winter celebration, like the great summer celebration used to be noisy. It was a time when the Otherworld opened, and ancestor shades as well as other supernatural spirits, witches, sorcerers, and werewolves were about. Mumming, while different regionally, in many places took place in the latter part of fall and through Christmas. The mummers (ķekatnieki, danča bērni, budeļi, or miežvilki) represented supernatural beings, animals, or spirits of agriculture. (cf Adamovičs: 98) Their activities were to facilitate fertility: dancing, jumping, turning, beating or switching people with a rīkste, throwing water on them, crude and licentious behavior. They were rewarded by gifts of food. In many ways they act similar to the Jāņa bērni ("children" of Midsummer) making rounds of the homesteads and bringing fertility or good luck.

Adamovičs singles out Dievs and Laima of deities present at the Great Festivals “except when preparing for war then Road Mother, War Mother, and Moon were invoked in public cults.” (Adamovičs: 99) However, historical sources do not seem to support the exclusiveness, or even priority of these deities. Who was invoked seems to be regional. Only a few historical sources from eastern Latvia speak of separate men’s and women’s cult activities. Most sources state that men and women celebrated together both in parallel and interactively; that has been the practice at least in recent centuries. A few older sources state that men sacrificed a male animal and women a female animal. Stribingius (1606) notes that men sacrificed at an oak, while women at a linden in eastern Latvia. In any case, there is an emphasis on parallelism and its connections:


Man piedzima Jāņu nakti Baltai ķēvei kumeliņš;

Ja zirdziņš – tētiņam, Ja ķēvīte – māmiņai. (LD 32 500)

On Mindsummer night my white mare gave birth to a colt.

If a colt – for father; if a filly – for mother.

The pattern is similar to the phrase tēvam dēli, mātei meitas (sons for father, daughters for mother) as in parallel descent.

Midsummer singing is well documented and the particularly characteristic type is known as aplīgošana. It is essentially Midsummer apdziedāšana or celebratory singing, including agonistic apdziedāšanās contest singing, also known as aplīgošana. The censorious songs were an effective means to shame lazy and shiftless people, whose fields were not in order or houses not decorated with greenery and flowers. That is why everyone made effort to not be shamed and tried to complete the work on time, which was supposed to be done by Midsummer, so they would not have to fear aplīgošanās. One ritual activity involves the mistress to circle the fields; others involve riding horses around them. The closing song of Midsummer always has something about seeing Yāņi off to the next hill, where the next hill people see if off to the next, and so on until it reaches the sea:


Pavadami Jāņa dienu Līdz viņami kalniņami,

Līdz viņami kalniņami, Līgo, līgo!

Lai pavada ciema meitas Līdz pašai jūriņai. Līgo, līgo.

Gaidīsim mēs citu gadu Tevi atkal atbraucami. Līgo, līgo.

We set off Midsummer Day to the next hill

To the next hill, līgo, līgo!

May the village girls see it off all the way to the sea. Līgo, līgo.

We await you another year, for you to come back. Līgo, līgo.

The aplīgošanās challenge songs are such as appear at other apdziedāšanās, except that since at Midsummer there is a division of male against female challenge singing, the songs tend to be more the courtship type where the young of opposite sex tease each other, except that everyone participates.


Mēs, puisēni, jaun’ būdami, Kā mums tika, tā daram:

Ejam meitas brāķedami, Kā auziņas braucīdami.

Puiši gāja siena pļaut, Trīs kažoki mugurā:

Nenopļāva gailim nastas, Ne kazai kumosiņa.


Vai, meitiņas, vai meitiņas, Jums jāiet čigānos:

Ne jūs mākat cimdu rakstu, Ne trinīta audekliņa.


Čakli, čakli, mūsu puiši, Kas tos puišus nepazina?

Rudzus pļāva raudādami, Krogā gāja dziedādami.


Briedim ragi nodiluši Krūmus, mežus bradājot;

Tā nodila puišiem mēles, Par meitām runājot.



Tā dziedāja jauni puiši, Kā tie mūsu suņi rēja;

Jaunas meitas gavilēja, Kā putniņi debesīs.


Gari mati, īss padoms Mūsu ciema meitiņām:

Kaķi cepa, vistu slauca Pašā Jāņu vakarā. (Tdz 53526)

Kviešiem iraid smalka zāle, Meitām gudra valodiņa;

Kas var kviešus izravēt, Kas var meitas nodziedāt.

Čīkstēdama, vaidēdama Ķīvitiņa gaisā skrēja,

Tā čīkstēja mūsu puiši, Jāņa dziesmas nezinot. (Tdz 53519)

We, lads being young, as we liked, we did.

We went spoiling girls, like separating oak grain.


Boys went to reap hay, three coats on their back.

They didn’t even reap a bundle for the cock, nor a bite for the goat.

Girls, oh, girls, you must go a gypsying:

You knew nothing of mitten patterns, or twill weaving.

Diligent, hard-working, those boys. Who didn’t know our lads?

Weaping when reaping, to the ale-house singing.

The buck’s antlers are worn down. Tramping through brush and forest.

That’s how the boy’s tongues wore down speaking about girls.

That’s how our boys were singing, how our dogs were barking.

The girls were exulting like birds to the sky.

Long hair, short counsel, our village girls:

Cooked a cat, milked a hen on Midsummer eve.


Fine is the wheat grass, clever the speech of girls.

Who can weed the wheat? Who can beat girls in song?

Squeaking, whimpering the lapwing flew through the sky;

That’s how our boys were creaking for loss of Midsummer songs.

That Midsummer songs continue to be generated is illustrated by entries in 2001on Bērziņš’s folklore site <http://www.svetki.lv/jaanji/ligodz.htm>:


Jāņu māte sieru sēja
Jāņu tēvs to izbrāķēja
Midsummer mother made the cheese wheel.

Midsummer father spoiled it.

The song can be interpreted as a double entendre.


B. Wedding as the Great Human Holiday


Lec, lec, māsiņa, No kumeliņa,

Negaidi tautiņu, Nocēlājiņu

Leap, jump, sister, dismounting your horse,

Don’t wait for the groom folk, to help you down!

(Wedding song that exhorts the girl to show her spirit, and do honor to her family as its representative)

Tilti rībi, tautas jāji (The bridges clattered, suitors were coming) (LD 18993)


The word derēt, related to IE *der- (to tear, to divide out, to pull out) in its Baltic etymological development has the meaning of "to be made useful or usable". (LEV I: 209) Thus there is the sense of purposeful necessary violent change associated with the concept of adaptation. The verb, along with its alternative līgt related to līdzināt (to make equal from the sense of cutting something the same height), refers to sealing a contract, either that of marriage or of work (LEV I: 520-1). In the figurative sense the terms mean to settle or calm down.

Māsa naidu sacēlusi, Sūta brāļus līdzināt. (LD 13765)

Sister has raised discord, Sends brothers to even it out.

The formulaic key word saderēt in the closing formula, then, has the sense of both sides having been made useful to each other by adjusting in addition to the understanding that a formal agreement or contract has been made:

Šodien manu augumiņu/ Ar tautieti līdzināja.

This day my body was adjusted to the bridegroom.

In apdziedāšanās the relationship or boundaries of two groups is adjusted through a ceremony seen in embodied imagery as being in better fit. If a dispute occurs, a smoothing-over ceremony of adjustment is necessary. And in a wedding the couple is described in physically embodied terms as being adjusted so as to fit together better.

Of the three great celebrations (godi) of human life marking the primary passages (birth, wedding, funeral), the wedding celebration is the high point analogous to the zenith of the sun’s journey. The largest number of dainas consists of wedding songs, and the primary drama is structured in terms of a play war involving two armed clans (kāzinieku draudzes) and bride capture. The participants are divided into two initially hostile war parties (kaŗa draudzes), the vedēji (bride-nappers or bridegroom’s people) and panāksnieki (chasers or bride’s people). The military terms are emphasized; there is talk of pulki (bands), flags, and war trumpets. Swords were sometimes carried, even after peasants were legally barred from doing so.

Semi-professional women singers were invited to the wedding party in Latgale. Apart from singing at the entrance into the house, at the table, they performed apdziedāšanās, addressings the new couple as well as every guest. (Muktupāvels)

Maksājiet, maksājiet Manu skaistu dziedājumu:

Jums bij labi klausīties, Man mēlīte deldējama. (LD 974)

Pay up, pay up For my fine singing:

It was good for you to listen, My tongue to wear down.

Like the wreaths at Midsummers, the bride’s crown and the bridgeroom’s have transformative powers. In the wedding, they serve to emphasize a change into another state and role, from that of unmarried to married. While the bride is the focus of the celebration because her change is more dramatic, it is significant that there is a weaker parallel in terms of the bridegroom’s hat as a symbol of the male.

Straubergs recounts the events of a wedding song war recorded in Alsunga, western Latvia. (Latviešu tautas dziesmas, VII: x). A woman from the bride’s side guards a hoard of tassels, apples, cheeses, or something else. Young men, presumably from the groom’s side, find an opportunity to "attack" and either scatter or keep the items. The bride’s side women take off their shawls, gather the tassels, and stand behind the table in the middle of the room. The groom’s singers assemble on the other side. The song leaders stand in front of their group, the locītājas (second voices) beside them, and the groom’s side begins the initial song. Later the menfolk join in to help, and eventually everyone is involved on one or the other side. Although the bride has already been taken to the home of the groom and is found by the bride catchers sitting by the table with the groom, she is still considered to be a representative of her natal family.

The songs LD 8282-9080 in Baron’s Latvju dainas are about gossiping, reputation, and "people’s talk" (ļaužu valodām, slavu un neslavu, paļām, nievāšanu, nicināšanu, mēlnesību). Many of these are also sung by the bride’s people (līgava’s draudze) who in turn are singing and in all ways putting down the bride. (Arājs: 195)

Unlike apdziedāt, which is not really negative since the desired outcome is positive, the term aprunāt (lit. to talk about) seems to be entirely negative, meaning to put down or gossip about. It is a primary complaint of girls against boys,

Dionisius Fabricius in Livonicae historiae compendiosa, 1611 says that the participants eat, drink, sing, and dance three days, the men and women catching some sleep on benches next to each other. He says their dance step consists of jumping on both feet.

The bride capture enactment does have basis in historical fact. In the past, before Christian law and practice forbade it, raiding was a fact among tribal peoples, and desirable women a primary booty. Arturs Goba (Ojārs Ozoliņš) in his Ceļs uz Biterīnu recalls vivid tales of raiding between enemy Estonians and Latvians in a hostile border area, including one tale where the captured Estonian women kill their captors and escape back to Estonian land (p. 183), or where one woman helps her clan take revenge and reclaim her (p. 198), and a tragic love story where yet a different captured Estonian woman and Latvian soldier fall in love, have a child, but she is claimed by a Latvian chieftain, resulting in an inter-clan fight with her death and the father having to flee with the surviving child from the clan (p. 200-201). Actual bride capture, of course, would not have been the primary wedding type even in the borderlands in feudal raiding times. From the standpoint of a girl’s family, theft as opposed to arrangement is not optimum. While human beings are flexible and survive under very adverse situations, being a slave and having natal family members killed in a real raid would not be desirable for a woman. However, a staged raid offers the most imaginative, exciting version without the cost, and allows for greater flexibility in arrangement when resources may be limited.


C. Fall and Winter Fertility and Well-being Rituals

Ritual songs are ethnically very stable due to their elaborate ethno-social context, as are also lyrical songs due to their image-oriented structure, whereas the narrative songs are more autonomous and easier to translate...the old layers of Estonian folk music have been preserved, if at all, in a surprisingly conservative form. New music layers have appeared alongside of them, leaving their structure essentially intact. The extreme conservatism of archaic musical phenomena has also been noted by musicologists from Latvia, Lithuania and elsewhere. (Kristin Kutma) <http://haldjas.folklore.ee/folklore/vol2/ident.htm>)

During special occasions of crises, a saberi (lit."to pour together") celebration was held. Neighbors would bring grain to brew beer in common and make bread, as well as other things to sacrifice, which included all agricultural and particularly dairy products as well as wool and flax products. (cf Adamsons: 107) There is almost no information about what kind of singing took place at saberi festivals in the earliest sources, and it is not clear if the historical saberi were harvest festivals, or festivals arranged ad hoc for emergencies. However, there are a number of different fall festivals, varying by region, which has retained the sense of interconnectivity of cosmic and human parallels in creativity and fertility.

Ethnomusicologist Ansis Ataols Bērziņš in his web site course on Latvian festivals summarizes a revived actual mock fighting ritual, sometimes also involving competitive singing between males and females during the fall festival Apjumības, which has a marked fertility tone and explicit sexual symbolism:

Of particular note is the struggle over the stebere. The mistress of the household (saimniece) gives the the stebere to the barvede, usually the most active and mouthy woman able to lead the women’s and girls’ group to put the lads down through song. It is a carrot strung together with a pair of onions or some other similarly shaped fruits or vegetables. The barvede and other women tease the lads with the stebere.

Sing, sing, barvede,

With the billy goat stebere.

I will poke out the nostrils of the lads

With the billy goat stebere.

Sing, girls, sing, women,

Guard the stebere.

The boys try to take away the stebere, and there is a lively struggle until the boys finally get the stebere and divide it among themselves. In this case the stebere symbolizes a phallus. As for Martinmaas, a billy goat was slaughtered. Since the folk songs usually speak of a billy goat stebere, there is reason to believe that in the past there was a struggle over a real goat’s phallus and not its replica.

Gather, my gatherers,

I will slaughter the billy goat tonight.

The group leader herself

Gets the billy goat stebere.

In general Apjumības were a “naughty” festival, appropriate for a fertiltiy festival. Today such performances are, of course, not fertility rites, but re-enactments with erotic entertainment as one function. But documentation of even more graphic fertility rituals among other Indo-Europeana peoples have been made, such as the classic I-E horse sacrifice where according to historical documentation, the queen enacted copulation with a dead horse, or its member for the sake of fertiltiy. (cf Agrawala, 99)

The mumming period, depending on region anytime from the end of fall to around the New Year, is another time for mummers to round the farms. Since the old pre-industrial base is gone, it is not necessarily believed, but it is known that they bring blessings from the Otherworld. There are similarities to the Balkan and English Morris groups, except mumming in Latvia seems mixed, rather than restricted to either all male or all female groups as in the Balkans. Both a father and a mother lead them, with the participants being known as children. Cross-dressing, such as among all-male Bulgarian koukeri or Romanian calusari may be done by both sexes. Also, the dancing is more an imitation of the bear and other animals than the high, acrobatic exhibition leaps as among Balkan men. In Latvia there are masks and costumes representing animals and Otherworld beings, but there is no theater of a king or other participant being killed and revived. Additionally, spring dainas mention young girl singing "troops" carrying flags led by leaders, perhaps recalling Bulgarian Lazaritza groups or Macedonian and Croatian girls’ groups honoring the goddess Lada. The correspondences seem more than casual of the Balkan and Baltic groups, notably importance attached to bees, health, and fertility, but there are no comparative studies to my knowledge.

During the masked activities mummers sang songs while making rounds of the farms, some of which are similar to the apdziedāšanās, except they were nonresponsorial. Some examples are: <http://www.svetki.lv/xmas/z6trad/apdz.htm>


Protu, protu, redzu, redzu, tais mājās slinkas meitas:

Logi, soli nemazgāti, mēslu čupa pagultē.


Čigānos laizdamās, vilku biezu kažociņu:

Citur deva ēsti, dzerti, citur vēzdu par muguru.


Ķekatīna, maza sieva, pazudusi kupenē;

Ņem sudraba šķipelīti, meklē mazu ķekatīnu.



Ko tu gaidi, vecais puisi, šogad sievas nepaņēmis.

Visas tavas vecās brūtes salēkušas čigānos.


Budēli, tēvaini, tev garš deguns:

Visu gaļu sakāri deguna galā.


Saimeniece cisku kasa, negribēja gaļas dot.

Vai tu kasi, vai nekasi, tāpat gaļa jāpiedod!


Budēli, tēvaini, tev gara bārda:

Dod manām meitām istabu slaucīt.

Čigāniši bēdājās: nava krēsla būdiņā:

Lepnām meitām platas lūpas, tur būs laba sēdēšana.

Dēlu māte, vilku māte, Abas vienu ceļu tek.

Dēlu māte vedekliņas, (Vilku) māte jērus tek.

(mummer song from Tukums, Kurzeme)

I can see, I understand in this house some lazy girls.

Windows, benches unwashed, a big mess under the bed.

Going a gypsying (mumming), I wore a thick coat.

In some places they give you food and drink; in others they hit you in the back.

The mummer woman, a small woman, lost in the snow drifts.

Take a silver shovel, look for the small mummer woman.

What are you waiting, old lad, this year you won’t get a wife.

All of your old brides have gone to gypsies.

Mummer, uncle, what a long nose you have:

All the sausages can be hung on the tip of your nose.


The mistress was scrubbing a bone, not wanting to give any meat.

No matter if you scrub; you must give some meat.

Mummer, uncle, what a long beard you have:

Lend it to our girls to sweep the room.

Mummer children were sorrowing, no chair in the hut.

Proud girls - thick lips, there’s a good place to sit.

Son’s mother, wolf mother, both going the same road.

Son’s mother for a daughter-in-law, wolf mother for lambs.

A song from Jēkabpils claims,“My father was a Gypsy, I am a fine lady (jumpraviņa – Latvianized “Jungfau,” often used ironically). My mother was a Gypsy, I sought a lord’s son.” The song is ironical, since in the daina world Germans and Gypsies represent polar extremes in terms of worldview, lifestyle, status, power, and privilege. A lord or lady, meaning a German, would be the extreme mismatch of a Gypsy. The German represents the high but oppressive class through with all the finery, pomp, and circumstance that the Latvian peasant looks at with cynicism and envy. The Gypsy represents the antithesis of the values and circumstances the hard-working, frugal peasant maintains and for which his alter ego yearns: freedom, including freedom from social restraints represented by living in the forest or wandering, or social norms represented by stealing. The shades of Latvian ancestors that the mummers act out appear in the form of the wild Other – animals, Gypsies, strange and grotesque beings, women dressed as men and men dressed as women. “Many of the animal masks that are used by Christmas mummers (ķekatas) is connected with this sense of changing or shape-shifting during the solstices." (Vība: 80)

There are also apdziedāšanās songs from Christmas, including the formulaic "without shame" songs that are initial formula used to frame celebrations as special and sacred with behavior and language that is not mundane:


Ai, bagāti Ziemas svētki, Kalpi kliedza, zirgi zviedza:

Kalpi kliedza piedzēruši, Zirgi zviedza neēsuši. (LD 333372)

Oh, rich Christmasfest: farmhands shouting, horses neighing.

Farmhands shouting in drunkenness; horses neighing without food.

The song suggests a history of changing values. Celebrating with revelry and noise is increasingly viewed negatively as Christian values become increasingly entrenched. There is, as a result, an expectation that at least Christmas be celebrated as one of quiet peace in contrast to the more archaic merrymaking.