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.