The summer solstice fell upon us this past weekend, and midsummer celebrations could be found all over the Northern Hemisphere of the globe. The summer solstice marks the longest day and shortest night of the year, and Midsummer is the celebration to mark the special moment in the annual cycle.
Midsummer celebrations fall back to Neolithic times, recognized by several names such as Litha (Pagan) and St. John’s day(Christian - This is John the Baptist’s b-day celebration) , and the celebrations embrace many practices and traditions still followed. Healing herbs such as lavender, calendula, St. John ’s wort and many others are picked at this time. These herbs are gathered in bunches and hung in doorways to dry. Water is used to cleanse away negativity. Small bunches of the medicinal herbs are gathered and placed in a container of water and left outside overnight. Then, faces are washed with the flower water the next morning to cleanse the spirit. Bonfires are lit around midnight to dispel evil spirits thought to come about as the days get shorter. These rituals alter and change depending on what part of the world one is in, but they all celebrate the rhythm of nature, and they all combine the common elements of fresh summer food to feast upon, dancing and celebrations, bright flowers in peak bloom, and a gathering to mark the ever-changing of the seasons.
Le feu de la Saint-Jean are the bonfires lit in France on Midsummer at the Fête de la Saint-Jean. This is a Catholic festival celebration. Spain also lights bonfires of old stuff to get away from their past. They jump over these fires to rid themselves of bad spirits. The bonfires are accompanied by fireworks displayed by the beaches. In Sweden maypoles are raised and flowers are picked to create wreaths while girls dance and sing dressed in fairy-tale like costumes. And, Poland, perhaps gets the award for the most beautiful celebration! Over 11,000 paper lanterns float up into the sky to mark the shortest night of the year.
For our own Midsummer celebration in the South, we celebrated in true Southern Tradition. We had a feast of fresh summer fare; Roasted asparagus, red potatoes and tomatoes came together to create a lovely pizza with a summer sun-ripened strawberry pie for desert. We enjoyed a little summer fun splashing out by the pool, and we picked some of the lavender that was ready to be picked. The night was ended, not with a huge bonfire, but with our own festival of lights. Hundreds of fireflies lit up the summer Southern skies like little stars beckoning the huge super moon to top the horizon.