21 June 2014

Midsummer sunrise

When is midsummer? June 21, 24, 25 or a date close to the Summer Solstice on June 20–23, says Wikipedia. And what shall we do to celebrate it? Festivals, Bonfires, Feasting, Singing, Maypole Dancing are some suggestions.

"Solstice celebrations still center around the day of the astronomical summer solstice. Some choose to hold the rite on June 21, even when this is not the longest day of the year, and some celebrate June 24, the day of the solstice in Roman times." So, it looks like the feasting, singing, etc could be spread over several days....

Or, you could gather your healing herbs, as did the ancients: "Some people believed that golden-flowered mid-summer plants, especially calendula and St. John's Wort, had miraculous healing powers and they therefore picked them on this night. Bonfires were lit to protect against evil spirits which were believed to roam freely when the sun was turning southward again. In later years, witches were also thought to be on their way to meetings with other powerful beings."

In 13th century England, fires were lit to drive away the dragons which poisoned springs and wells at midsummer, and wheels were rolled downhill: " to signify that the sun then rises to the highest point of its circle and at once turns back".

In Finnish folk magic, midsummer was a very potent night and the time for many small rituals, mostly for young maidens seeking suitors and fertility. In many countries, not only are bonfires lit but traditionally girls jumped over the fire "and boys watched the spectacle". In Poland, girls throw flower wreaths into the sea, lakes, or rivers (perhaps this is a manifestation of the fertility aspect of the festival - in other places girls are dressed as brides, or mock weddings of children are held).

In Latvia they really go to town with this festivity: "Celebrations consist of a lot of traditional and mostly pagan elements - eating Jāņi cheese (special recipe with caraway seeds), drinking beer, baking pīrāgi, singing hundreds of Latvian folk songs dedicated to Jāņi, burning bonfires to keep light all through the night and jumping over it, wearing wreaths of flowers (for women) and oak leaves (for men) together with modern commercial products and ideas. There are tens and hundreds of different beliefs and traditions all over Latvia on what should be done on that day for good harvest, for predicting the future, for attracting your future spouse etc. People decorate their houses and lands with birch or sometimes oak branches and flowers as well as leaves, especially fern. In rural areas livestock is also decorated. In modern days small oak branches with leaves are attached to the cars in Latvia during the festivity."

In Christian tradition, the festival is linked with the feast of St John. In parts of Portugal "St. John's is a festival that is lived to the full in the streets, where anything is permitted. People carry a whole plant of flowering garlic with them (or a little plastic hammer), which they use to bang their neighbors over the head for good luck. According to one Portuguese Grandmother, the tradition is that St. John was a scalliwag in his youth and the people hit him on the head with the garlic saying 'return to the right path'."

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