..or a Pagan holiday
The summer solstice occurs some time between June 20 and June 22 in our hemisphere, the northern hemisphere. Solstice is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). From an astronomical point of view, the summer solstice occurs sometime between June 20 and June 21 (sometimes June 22) in the Northern Hemisphere, and December 21 and December 22 (sometimes December 23) in the Southern Hemisphere. The summer solstice day has the longest period of daylight. In a more understandable approach: Party time!
The celebration of Midsummer's Eve was from ancient times a festival of this summer solstice. Some people believed that plants had miraculous healing powers and they therefore picked them on this night. Bonfires were lit to protect them 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 other words, the Midsummer Fest is, in fact, born out of a Pagan history and is held on the Friday or Saturday, depending on what country, between the 19 and June 26. However the Fest is also referred to as St. John's Day, referring to John the Baptist, who was born 6 months earlier than Jesus Christ and is therefor held on June 24. These countries look at the Fest as a Christian celebration obviously. So you can pick either! These days it is all about getting together and having a great time with food and drinks. Just like any other weekend for some people. In Sweden, Finland, Latvia and Estonia, Midsummer's Eve is the greatest festival of the year. Some are actually thinking of making it their National Day.
I am not embarrassed to say that, at first, it was Mouse Tales that got me acquainted with, let's say, the concept. Growing up in the Netherlands, there was not much to do about the Midsummer Fest. After reading, and later watching, A Midsummer Night's Dream, interest turned into desire to learn more and experience the real deal. Besides the solstice part of the story, it is the mystic that surrounds the Fest that makes it what it is today. A mysterious event surrounded by stories of Wicca, bonfires, spirits and..dancing. That simply must get you excited.
As we have the luxury to call some people in Sweden family, it is almost absurd that we still have not enjoyed the Fest. But not only with friends and family in Sweden. This coming weekend, Midsummer Fest weekend, for instance we have been invited to FOUR Midsummer Night Parties. Unfortunately we cannot make any of them, because we simply were not aware of keeping this date free from any other activities. Future note to ourselves: Keep June 21 free at all cost!
Although I will not have the pleasure to be part in any of the festivities this year, I am going to leave you with a couple of tips to have an authentic Midsummer Fest.
1) Dance around the Maypole. If you're lucky enough to live where the local community has organized a maypole, give it a go! If not, make one yourself by finding a tall pole. Attach ribbons or strong streamers at the top of the pole. These ribbons will need to be an even number, the same number of ribbons as there are dancers. Divide the dancers into two groups and let one group go clockwise around the pole and the other one counterclockwise. Make sure they follow a pattern like over, under, over, under, over, under etc. By over the dancer raises his ribbon slightly so the dancer coming in the opposite direction can duck under his ribbon. By under the dancer ducks under the ribbon of the dancer coming in the opposite direction.
2) Throw a party with a bonfire. A bonfire is part of the tradition of the Midsummer Fest. Fire has always been a source of protection for human beings, scaring off the beings of the night, both real and magical. Nowadays you can reinvent the bonfire as a great reason to hold a party with friends.
3) Food and Drinks. Invite friends over and have food and drinks together while sitting around a bonfire or BBQ for that matter. Across Scandinavia, people come together to consume pickled herring or fresh fish, potatoes, vodka shots and the first strawberries of the season. The main goal for this is being among friends and having a good time.
4) Honour the Sun. If you want to celebrate it like it should be, you have to understand that it is all about honouring the sun. The maypole suggests a fertility object to impregnate the earth, so to speak. The sun, in its turn, will make sure that all will grow in abundance. Some fun ideas can be making a Sun Pinata and fill it with yellow flower petals and gold coins. Blindfold guests to hit it! Or make a very traditional Sun Wheel by creating a large wreath with flowers and moss. Then get some strips of paper and have your friends write a wish on it and wrap it or tie it with string to the wreath. Pass it around casually through the evening. Some can take turns dancing with it around the maypole, holding it and then at the end of the evening throw it into the bonfire!
5) Stay up all night and have a great time!