Well, it was a fascinating long weekend, to say the least. The two-day holiday festivities began on Friday for what is known as Ligo, and the following day, Jani. Both days are filled with many celebrations in Latvia, celebrating the mid-summer holiday, which has deep-rooted connections to their pagan cultural pasts. Riga held various events throughout the city, filled with concerts and a festival-like atmosphere for the public to purchase food and beverages while singing both classical and contemporary Latvian music.
On Friday I decided to do some people watching, taking root on a park bench by the market off of the Daugava river trail. I found the people to be very energetic and full of life. The streets were packed full of pedestrians laughing in colorful attire. Some sported traditional garb in honor of the occasion. I gathered that a staple of the holiday weekend attire is the flower crown. My only experience with such strange headgear stems from pictures of Coachella or any other sort of music festival that you see a Kardashian at every other weekend. These crowns were delicately crafted; each blossom fastened tightly into place to form a vibrant floral ring. I also noticed the men sported a similar piece made of oak leaves. After seeing numerous people with the crown, I approached a street vendor to question its significance and history. The woman, who’s arms were layered with the crowns like a human abacus, informed me that the crowns were not for show but tradition. The wreaths prevent disasters and diseases for the women, and the men’s wreaths signify strength from the oak tree.
The celebrations continued into the late night. Given that it was one of the longest days of the year (it is a solstice holiday after all) the sun managed to stay in the deep sky until close to midnight. The sunset was truly captivating, seemingly dancing on the Daugava river while the people continued to feast, laugh, and sing along with the local entertainment. Once the light got dim, I noticed a small man carrying a torch clutched above his head. He ran down the boulevard, beyond the food tents to a pyre located behind the concert stage that managed to elude me throughout the celebration. The flames climbed to the top of the hay strung pyre. One of my friends accompanying me informed me that it is tradition to attempt to jump over the fires if they are ground level, and doing so will bring you a year of good luck. While I cherish good fortune, I do believe I admire my skin to a greater extent.
After the fires had dampened, the night full of lights continued with a mighty display of fireworks along the river. They were launched into the air from the shoreline across from old town. Each firework burst at the peak of its climb and reflected all of its colors in the surf of the river. It was a mesmerizing scene, with people’s heads fixed on the sky anticipating the bursts of the artful display.
Sadly, my weekend did not conclude as great as it started. The holiday was full of wonder, but the Sunday following proved to be quite the test. I woke up the next day to find that my bike (or should I say my borrowed bike) was stolen from my apartment building. Knowing that things happen outside of my realm of my control was somewhat assuring. The setback truly had its consequences. On my way to work the following day my bus card had glitched out and deactivated, leaving me stranded on my connecting bus stop without means of getting to my internship. Again, I brushed off the accident and continued walking to work, enjoying the views and the smiling faces of the pedestrians I passed. Unfortunately, I had failed to look up the weather for the day. Latvia is known for its occasional thunderstorms that approach rather quickly. Like a scene from a cliché romantic comedy, I trudged my way to work using my backpack as a Spartan shield to block the rain from ruining my suit. I have since recovered quickly and gracefully from my late weekend mishaps, but I enjoyed the festivities nonetheless. Just goes to show you that you have your good days and your bad days in a new environment, and they can turn on the flip of a dime.
Maybe I should have jumped over the pyre after all for good luck?