Monday, June 23, 2014

Summer Solstice

Don’t look now, but from here on the days will be growing shorter.  That’s what the summer solstice is all about, and worldwide the event is marked by festivals and other “Midsummer” celebrations of one kind or another.  To a certain extent Christianity has appropriated the pagan holiday by merging it with the celebration of the feast day of Saint John the Baptist (June 24, or the evening of the 23rd).  Note that John the Baptist is thought to have been born six months before Jesus.

From Wikipedia, we learn that

In Lithuania the festival is known as “Joninės” or “Rasos” (Dew Holiday).  The traditions include singing songs and dancing until the sun sets, telling tales, searching to find the magic fern blossom at midnight, jumping over bonfires, greeting the rising midsummer sun and washing the face with a morning dew, young girls float flower wreaths on the water of river or lake.  These are customs brought from pagan culture and beliefs.

Yes, up there at the top of this post is a maiden with a flower wreath—our Lady of Gedimino Prospektas.  I don’t know if that’s Saint John’s Wort in her hair or not (I don’t think so), but in Vilnius specifically, celebration of the summer solstice/Saint John the Baptist Feast Day seems to be associated with exactly the same kind of street fair/folk festival that was mounted in Šiauliai a few weeks ago (in fact, it attracted a few of the same vendors) featuring wooden kitchen utensils, accordion music, a light alcoholic drink called gira, and lots of beef and venison jerky.  What’s not to like?

In part because it took place on the avenue in front of our hotel, the Midsummer solstice celebration  in Vilnius proved to be quite a distraction on a day for which we had already prepared a long agenda.  So after wandering around the stalls for a bit, we boarded a #2 trolleybus in the direction of the train station (stotis, not to be confused with solstice), hopping out to join the throng of tourists who had descended upon the Aušros Varai (Gates of Dawn), attracted by this city’s answer to the Shroud of Turin.  It’s called Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn, or sometimes simply the Vilnius Madonna, and she is said to have miracle-working powers.  There were no miracles in store for us.  We stood in the queue for a long time, but never got a close look at the icon, so the image below is taken off the internet:

From the mob scene at the Gates of Dawn, we strolled through the old town; at one point I turned around to shoot a photograph down Aušros Vartų gatvé (see photo, below). 

There are some lovely baroque churches in this neighborhood, including the Church of Saint Casimir (1618), pictured below.  During the Soviet occupation it was turned into a Museum of Atheism.

The town hall also is located in this part of the city.  As it was Saturday, the district was teeming with brides and grooms, which offered an opportunity for a photo of Our Lady of Pilies gatvé, below.

And so ends our Lithuanian adventure.  This blog post will be published upon our return to the United States, or maybe from Copenhagen, where we will be changing planes.  It's been a great experience for us both, and we hope for you, too.  Thanks for coming along for the ride and for discovering with us the many charms of Lithuania.



  1. How appropriate that the days will get darker from here on without your wonderful posts! Thanks for each & every one of them, Ken and Jane!!

  2. Thank you, David. When we had lunch with embassy folks in Vilnius last week, we were gratified that they seemed to approve of everything we tried to do, including the blog. Our professional diplomats can be a little thin-skinned, so that was encouraging. Keep those dispatches from Lawnfield coming! Ken

  3. Thanks, Ken. I enjoyed following your and Jane's Lithuanian adventures, and I learned a lot from your very entertaining and informative blog posts and great photos. I hope your trip back goes (went) smoothly.

  4. Thanks, Michael. We appreciate your support.

  5. Thanks Ken! It's been so informative and great fun I'll miss all this content. Welcome home!

  6. Thanks for reading, Mike. By the way, on our last day in Vilnius we went to the Jewish Holocaust Museum, which turns out to have a collection that complements many of the other museums in the city, especially the Museum of Genocide Victims (the KGB Museum), which have a different (albeit equally disturbing) agenda. I had already shut down the blog, so I'm using this space to reassure readers that the Jewish Holocaust in Lithuania is not unrepresented in Vilnius's museums.

  7. I'm pleased and relieved to hear that. It's hard to "never forget" if you never know in the first place.