If you happen to be driving through the suburbs of Cleveland tonight and see what looks like a small (but enthusiastic) bonfire, don’t worry! It’s Midsummer Eve, and as usual, we’ll be lighting a whole bunch of candles in honor of the day.
What’s not to celebrate? Tomorrow is the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. Of course, if you listen to my husband, he’ll see this as a half-glass-empty event. First day of summer? That means we’re starting our slide toward winter. I prefer to look at things a little more positively. Around here, summer means eating most of our meals out on the back porch, sitting outside on long evenings knitting, tending to the veggie garden and visiting our bees to see what the "girls" are up to. Summer means beautiful sunsets along the shores of Lake Erie, bike ride in the nearby national park, visiting with neighbors and seeing what’s growing in their gardens.
I’m not sure when we started our Midsummer tradition of burning lots of candles, but I know the custom goes back a long, long way. People have been celebrating midsummer since forever. In fact, the earliest humans kept track of the sun’s path across the sky and because their existence depended so much upon nature, they had to keep track of the length of daylight and the location of sunrise and sunset throughout the year. As they became more sophisticated, they built monuments like Stonehenge to help them follow the sun’s path. Around the same time (roughly 5000 years ago), two great pyramids and then the Sphinx were built in Egypt. On June 21, if you stand at the Sphinx and look up toward the two pyramids nearest it, you’ll see the sun set exactly between the two. Cool, huh?
Around the world, people are still celebrating. In France, they build bonfires. In Estonia, they not only light bonfires, but jump through them to guarantee good luck (this doesn’t sound like a way to good luck to me). In Ireland where my husband’s ancestors come from, there are fairs and concerts and fireworks and in Poland (land of my ancestors), people dress like pirates (go figure!) and throw wreathes of flowers into the Baltic Sea or in lakes and rivers.
Tradition says that Midsummer is one of the times of the year when magic is strongest. Wiccans call the holiday Litha. If you’re into that sort of thing, you can pick a bouquet of 7 or 9 flowers, put it under your pillow and dream about your future spouse. Herbs picked on Midsummer are said to be more potent, and water collected from springs brings good health.
So tonight, light a candle (or two or three) and join in the celebration. Happy Summer!