There are five things every Estonian needs to celebrate Jaanipäev, the all day and night, midsummer’s eve extravaganza that makes Christmas look tame.

1. Liha (meats) — preferably plastic buckets of chicken or pork šašlõkk — what we in the US might refer to as shish kebab. Chicken breasts, sausages, and basically all other socially acceptable animal by-products are welcome, but no Jaani celebration is really complete without some serious šašlõkk grilling. Šašlõkk comes in various marinades, ranging from vinegar to plum to blueberry to yoghurt, and tastes best after being roasted over an open spit. Because the sun rises at 4 am and begins setting at 10.30 pm on Jaanipäev, a celebrant has several opportunities during the day to consume šašlõkk.

2. Õlu (beer) — I know there are a lot of people who look down on beer drinkers as lower-class alcohol-consuming heathen and would prefer to toast the longest day of the year with vodka or maybe even a nice chianti. On Jaanipäev, though, you’ve really got to drink beer, and I say this as someone whose magic cure for the wintertime blues is limoncello. But what brand of beer? If you are in northern Estonia, they’ll try and push a Saku on you, while the southern Estonians will force you to drink A. Le Coq. I even know some crazy muthas who go for Alexander or even the boozer’s choice, Saaremaa X (10 percent alcohol), which is also manufactured by A. Le Coq. Ultimately, beer brand is not the most important question. If your lawn is littered with empties the next morning, half of which you don’t recall imbibing, then you’ve done your service to the Estonian state.

3. Makk (radio) — No Jaanipäev celebration is complete without a boombox blaring the Estonian jams and their modern dance facelifts. For a small country, Estonians have produced a large corpus of music, ranging from country-influenced thumpers to covers of AM Gold hits, like “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies, which you’ve never really grooved to, until you’ve grooved to it in eesti keel. My personal favorite yesterday was an old accordian-driven tune by Kihnu Virve called Imeline jaaniöö — “wonderful Jaani night.” What’s great about stations like Raadio Elmer, is that they won’t just play, say, Roosiaia Kuningana by Anne Veski, but they’ll also play a new, sped-up 21st century dancefloor version of the 1980 hit to match the rest of the drink-to-you-drop party programming that just keeps going and going and going. Why I bet, they’re half way through a disco-upgrade of Uno Loop’s classic, Mis värvi on armastus? right now.

4. Tuli (fire) — A Jaanituli is the most essential ingredient of a Jaanipäev celebration. An old pagan tradition, the bonfire is actually a great way to dispose of old crap. Estonians gladly seize this opportunity to torch old boats, remont leftovers, archives of SL Õhtuleht newspapers, and whatever else will burn. The spark is put to the wood precisely at sunset. From your nook in the Estonian countryside, you can look up to the sky and see the smoke drifting from neighboring jaanituled. If you are feeling festive enough, or have had enough Saaremaa X, you might feel moved to suddenly leap over the towering flames of the Jaanituli for good luck. Those Estonians who accidentally fall in feel no pain, as there is no pain on Jaanipäev.

5. Sõbrad (friends) — Estonians are infamous for being rude jerks most of the year, but on Jaanipäev, no matter who you are, you are welcome in the village. People call out to old friends from car windows, guests show up out of the blue with Gin Long Drinks, and roving gangs of strange children invite themselves over to eat your food and play with your kids’ toys. Here’s your neighbor Ants helping himself to a beer, there’s your black sheep cousin Marju, savoring your tasty šašlõkk, and nevermind the old schoolmaster Teodor, who is playing one-handed badminton by himself in the corner (as he has a beer in the other hand at all times). Jaanipäev is the only day out of the year when you can count all 1.34 million inhabitants of Eestimaa as your friends.


17 thoughts on “jaanipäevast”

  1. Yup, all of that was mostly true. (Sans the cheesy 80s hits.. badminton was involved though). Also, there is a following of A Le Coq even amongst mentally sane Northern Estonians 😉


  2. This is all so very reminiscent of Brazilian São João (St. John) celebrations… except in Brazil we also have lots of fireworks and people dancing around the fire. Ah, and a lot of corn-based food to go with the beer.

    Is this Jaanipäev behavior only for Estonian Estonians, or do Russian Estonians also follow the pattern?


  3. It's stylish to have the traditional date. The Finnish (and Swedish) rational social democracy has gone bit too far in arranging the permanent Friday for the Midsummer… Should one summer take advantage and have a double Midsummer!


  4. “Estonians gladly seize this opportunity to torch old boats, remont leftovers, archives of SL Õhtuleht newspapers, and whatever else will burn.”…This is so sad but true… Quite a lot of Estonians dump all their leftovers (read: poisoning waste, plastic, old rags) to the bonfire place. Later they drink their well water and breathe their air that they have polluted..

    PS You forgot to write about “looking for a sõnajalaõis” part.


  5. I celebrated jannipäev in at the Eestimaja in Chicago last weekend. The Jannituli roared robustly, but the event was light on folk dancing and, oddly enough, beer. I'm looking forward to celebrating my first Jannipäev in Eestimaa next June. How 'hull' does 'Vabariigid päev' get?


  6. My family and I spent the week traveling over northern Europe. Berlin, Prague, Krakow, Warsaw, Copenhagen, etc. Our impression was the entire continent was partying or preparing to party. We saw sound checks going on everywhere, from Rottenburg in the south to stockholm in the north. No party in Auschwitz though, thank god.


  7. Hello Giustino, sorry for the short notice. I sometimes travel a bit spotaneously. I'm in Riga right now, but I think I found a connection for Tartu which means that I'll arrive by bus from Valga today (1st of July) at 20.10. Then I'll spend the night in Tartu before going on tomorrow.

    Sorry for using your blog for this private correspondence. I can drop you a line here again when I've found accomodation, or alternatively we could meet at the bus sation, but only if you have time for it and it's no inconvenience of course. I'm sorry to arrive so late.


  8. Sorry Giustino, that online travel planner apparently thought that the 1st of July was a friday. I arrived in Tartu three hours later than I thought I would.

    I'm still in town, so if you see this comment, I'll try to check back later. It's not too late for a Le Coq…


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