Although Midsummer Day occurs near the summer solstice, or what we think of as the beginning of summer, to the farmer it is the midpoint of the growing season, halfway between planting and harvesting, and an occasion for celebration.Although it’s also the feast day of St. John the Baptist, it features pagan traditions such as bonfires, fire walking, and a carnival atmosphere, all of which took place on Midsummer Eve. Certainly, it’s a night of magic and soothsaying as well, for as Washington Irving said, this is a time ‘when it is well known all kinds of ghosts, goblins, and fairies become visible and walk abroad.’
After Midsummer Day, the days shorten. In Lithuanian tradition, the dew on Midsummer Day was said to make young girls beautiful and old people look younger. It was also thought that walking barefoot in the dew would keep one’s skin from getting chapped. It was customary to honour all men named John on this day by fixing wreaths of oak leaves around their doors. This is usually done in secret, and John must guess who did it or catch the person in the act, in which case he must give the person a treat.
Though most traditions and celebrations linked with Midsummer’s Day are now only observed in small pockets around the UK like Cornwall and Devon, there are still a few fun things you can do with your family if your wish to celebrate this special day in English folklore.
A visit to Stonehenge is the one thing above all others which springs to mind when ‘summer solstice’ is mentioned in Britain. Stonehenge instantly captures the imagination. It still holds great mysteries – although much research has been done, no-one knows for certain why it was built, who built it or even how they built it. It seems as old as time itself and over the centuries, ideas have come and gone – in the 12th century it was believed to mark the grave of King Arthur; by the 17th century, the Druids had been given credit for its construction, and nowadays there are people who believe it was constructed, for whatever purpose, by visitors from outer space. On a more plausible level in the “outside influence” theories, the Romans, the Phoenicians and even the ancient Egyptians have also been implicated.
A slightly more modern and family friendly approach to celebrating Midsummer might be a visit to the Walken Hall Midsummer Festival. Held every year in Stevenage, this free one-day festival with live traditional music and two hours of young bands, features a whole host of outdoor activities including a climbing wall, art, archery, snooker, trampolining and even a spot beat-box and hip hop dance workshops.