Midsummer Celebrations

The summer solstice, also known as “Midsummer,” has been celebrated throughout the ages as the longest day and shortest night of the year. Solstice festivities date back as far as The Stone Age and encompass a variety of cultural and religious rites centered around notions of harmony, femininity, and fertility. 

According to ancient pagan folklore, the summer solstice is the most magically charged day of the year…a time when supernatural powers for both good and evil are at their most potent! In the words of Ronald Hutton, Professor of History at the University of Bristol, Midsummer was seen as “a time when the normal laws of nature or divinity could be suspended, when spirits and fairies could contact humans, when humans could exceed the usual limitations of their world.” Shakespeare toyed with this very notion in his famous comedic play Midsummer Night’s Dream, which chronicles a summer solstice eve gone awry, set against the backdrop of an enchanted forest rife with fairy magic and romantic misadventures.

“Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing” circa 1786, William Blake (1757-1827)

In ancient European pagan cultures, bonfires accompanied by singing and dancing were held on Midsummer’s night to ward off evil spirits, lend luck in love, and fuel the sun’s energy in hopes of a bountiful harvest. In ancient Greece, the summer solstice marked the birth of a new calendar year. Ancient Romans celebrated the occasion with a religious festival in honor of Vesta, goddess of hearth & home. Vikings traditionally convened on this day to make important decisions and resolve conflicts. In ancient Egypt, the summer solstice aligned with the rise of the River Nile, an annual event which deposited nutrient-rich sediment into surrounding lands. For Egyptians, this was also a time of sun worship rituals aimed at the sun god Ra, revered as creator of all life. Early Christian societies also made their mark on summer solstice history in the early 500s when they instituted the Feast Day of John the Baptist on Midsummer Day. 

“The Feast of Saint John”, Jules Breton (1875).

Archaeologists and historians attribute solstice significance to various ancient structures whose orientation and construction . From the viewpoint of The Great Sphinx on the Giza Plateau in Egypt, the sunset is framed squarely between the Great Pyramids of Khufu and Khafre on the summer solstice. And Stonehenge in southern England—that mysterious stone circle dating back to the Neolithic Period (1900 BC)—is perfectly aligned with the sunrise on the summer solstice, leading experts to question whether it was indeed erected as a site for ceremonial solstice rituals. 

Midsummer celebrations still abound, with enduring traditions of feasting, dancing, and general merrymaking taking place across Ireland, the UK, and various regions of Europe. Perhaps it’s time you joined in with the festivities and hosted a summer solstice soirée of your own!

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