Always Singing: Eve of Janis
Janits comes again each year, ligo ligo
To look upon his children dear, ligo ligo
have drank and eaten, ligo ligo
Whether they awaited Janis, ligo
Janis (Yawn-iss) is the now legendary person considered to be the
father of the Latvian race. Every year at summer solstice he comes to visit, to see how his people are doing.
Latvians celebrate this visit with great enthusiasm, visiting each other, decorating their homes and themselves
with leaves and flowers, eating, drinking and singing. There are many songs especially for this occasion, that
are recognizable as such by their common chorus of repeated “ligo” (lee-goa). Ligo is a shout of joy as well as
incitement to enjoy.
The songs say that anyone who sleeps on this, the shortest night of
the year, will sleep away the summer, not getting their work done, but those who honour the occasion by staying
up all night and praising Janis will be rewarded with lots of energy to work to bring in a bountiful harvest.
This harvest would have been very crucial to their ability to survive the next winter hundreds of years ago,
when these traditions originated, when Latvians were a peasant people living off the land in north eastern
Europe by the Baltic Sea, where winters are a strong force.
Olga tries to imagine what life would have been like long ago in the
country of her parents' birth. For her, living in Toronto in the 1960's as the daughter of immigrant parents,
there are neither cows nor shepherds, no farmers plowing fields of hops or grains, no life or death matter in
praising Janis and obtaining his blessings. Certainly her parents never stayed awake all night, yet as far as
Olga could see, they worked hard and cheerfully and had lots of wonderful things in their lives.
Her father made pickles, sauerkraut and wine. There were always
buckets of honey and bushels of wonderful apples in the basement. Olga stuffed herself often, eating her
mother's stews along with the dark sourdough rye bread and cottage cheeses. Non the less, Olga's family
celebrates Jani with great enthusiasm along with many other Latvians.
Latvians live scattered all over southern Ontario, where ever they
were able to find work and make their homes after WWII. Latvian organizations have purchased country properties
where Latvians are able to gather, to visit and enjoy celebrations of which the most popular is Jani.
One of these country properties is owned by the Latvian church that
Olga's parents participate in. It is a several hundred acre plot of land on the Natawasaga River, near Barrie.
The Latvians call it Saulaine (Sau-ligh-neh) which means “sunny place”. This is where Olga, sister Ilze, brother
Jekabs (Yeah-cubs), and their parents go each year, on the weekend closest to June 24, that is the calendar date