So now we come to the longest day of the year, celebrated in the medieval era (anywhere from June 21 to 25) as Midsummer and the nativity of St. John the Baptist, as well as a bonfire and quarter day. It’s a perfect example of the assimilation of pagan and Christian traditions, and the triumph of nature over both. We know that everything is blooming now and that the days are long, and people in the past did too. This is a day that is much more important in Scandinavian cultures than those of the rest of Europe or here in America; its characterization and secularization as the mere “longest day” definitely robbed it of some of its magic. The best thing to do is just enjoy the day—all of it.
Different perspectives on the longest day and the onset of Summer:
“Longest Day set off westward in beautiful crimson & gold”, from Walter Crane‘s Masque of Days (1901); “Summer” hand-colored mezzotint published by John Fairburn, 1796.
Global views of Summer in 18th-century astronomical charts from the Wellcome Library, London–and you can buy your own here.
Morning, midday & evening in Salem, Summer Solstice eve:
June 21st, 2013 at 8:55 am
The solstice was 1AM eastern time. Always a sad time for me because now the days are getting shorter again….
June 21st, 2013 at 8:57 am
(Four minutes past midnight, Cayman time)
June 21st, 2013 at 10:52 am
Spent Midsummer’s Night in Tartu, Estonia on a trip a decade ago. It was the first day of a two-day holiday in that country. For those who couldn’t make the traditional pilgrimage to the countryside, the city’s open-air “song bowl” offered sausage and beer, dancing and singing, and of course a bonfire. We were there until after midnight, and during all that time, despite the thousands in attendance and the beer drinking, not one fight broke out! And it was still light enough outside to read a newspaper as we walked back to our lodgings.
June 21st, 2013 at 11:08 am
Lovely memory, Brian–I’m jealous! I’ve been to much of Europe, but never Scandinavia or the Baltics. Next trip, I hope.
June 21st, 2013 at 12:18 pm
Whereas there is so much of Europe I’ve not been near, so the good-natured envy can go in both directions! That trip was confined to the Baltic states, btw. My girlfriend has since been back (just last year) on a month’s art residency in Riga.
June 26th, 2013 at 4:42 am
I don’t know about Scandinavian countries but “St John’s Night” is one of the most important celebrations in Spain. People light bonfires and stay out all night, dancing and drinking, sleeping on the beach etc.
June 27th, 2013 at 6:44 pm
Thanks for the link to the Wellcome Trust archive. It’s a wonderful library of historical images and scientific resources.
June 27th, 2013 at 7:34 pm
It truly is, Susan; I never tire of foraging there!