In the Midst of Midsummer: Traditions and Tales
Each year, we write a bit about Midsummer and the different traditions regarding this symbolic day. In the past we have shared about the fairy folk, the Swedish traditions, and even a plan of how to have your own kid-friendly celebrations.
This year we want to share a bit more of how Midsummer lore and magic fits into the larger framework of interrelated yearly traditions. There is magic in celebrating the passing of seasons. The origins of Midsummer are ancient, a celebration of light and magic. One of its earliest known iterations is a pagan celebration of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, filled with light, mischief and magic.
Summer solstice, astronomically speaking, is the day of the most sunlight. It is a combination of the tilt of the earth, the speed of rotation, and the directness of the sun. In many of the Northern areas of the world, it seems that the sun doesn't set. Of course its opposite is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. The summer solstice ranges in date between the 20-22nd of June, depending on the earth's relationship to the sun.
However during the rise of the Christian era, they also wanted to continue to celebrate the solstice, but with a more religious bent. Midsummer became an official celebration of the birth of John the Baptist, and is always celebrated on June 24th, six months from Christmas. It is also one of the four "quarter" days: Lady Day (March 25th), Midsummer or the Feast of St. John (June 24th), Michelmas (September 29th) and Christmas Day (December 25th).
Midsummer day, most famously celebrated throughout Northern Europe, falls on June 24th each year, not necessarily exactly on the summer solstice. It has become a mix of local, pagan, and Christian traditions, creating a rich heritage of celebrating light, earth, and water.
Since Midsummer falls during the season of the year with the most sunlight, enjoying every moment is a big part of the tradition. Often a felled tree is used as a maypole and decorated with ribbons and flowers. Dancing around the maypole to mark the dawn, midday, and dusk is one way to celebrate the sun's movements across the sky.
As dusk begins to settle in, a bonfire is an absolutely necessary part of the evening's festivities. It is believe that fairies, trolls, changelings and goblins, move freely in the human world during midsummer. A bonfire is built high and bright to keep the mystical world at bay. This year we discovered these magic firesticks that add a bit of colorful enchantment to the evening. These white cotton nightgowns are the perfect thing for dancing around the fire.
For the traditional agricultural industry, midsummer is the halfway point of the growing season between planting (May Day) and harvesting (Lammas Day). It is a day to celebrate the work accomplished and the bounty to come. Early flowers, fruits and vegetables, like chamomile, strawberries and radishes, are ready for harvest at this point in the season. This Strawberry Chamomile Olive Oil Cake is one that I Iove to make for Midsummer celebrations. And of course it should be paired with our Strawberry Dishware and topped with a flower child.
Flowers, both wild and garden varieties, are also typically in full bloom during the months of May and June, before becoming scorched by the hot sun of July. Flowers are a big part of the traditional celebrations. One tradition from the British Isles is to pick a bouquet of wildflowers to put under your pillow when you finally go to sleep, and dream of your one true love. We also have these wildflower seed cannons that would be perfect use on Midsummer.
As with many celebrations, it is fun to dress the part. Nightgowns and crowns woven from daisies or other wildflowers are also a great way to dress up for the day. We also love these daisy chains from our sister store Blickenstaff's.
Water is also an important element of midsummer celebrations. Oftentimes, wells or natural water springs are decorated to keep fairies and nymphs from wreaking havoc with the towns water supply. Another Slavic tradition is the making of flower wreaths or 'wianki' that are thrown into the water. The wreath was originally woven by a young woman in the home, who knew the symbolism of each flower and herb woven into the wreath. Some of the girls would prepare the wreaths during the day and wear them on their head during the festival, before fastening a candle in the middle and sending it out to float on the water after the sun set.
It is also the season of the herring migration in the North Sea. The herring comes nearest to the shore during the month of June. Fishing, and of course eating the fish, are a big part of Midsummer celebrations. Celebrate the fishing season with this Dutch Herring plate or our GurglePot. While there are many traditional foods, specific to each region, Midsummer is a celebration of the foods that are ready and grown locally. What foods are ready and in season in late June where you live?
This year, the summer solstice is on June 20th. Which is the same day as Father's Day. I like to give each holiday it's time to celebrate, we are going to celebrate Midsummer on June 24th this year. We would love to hear more about your midsummer traditions.
Shop our Midsummer collection.