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Midsummer's Day

The festival is primarily a Celtic fire festival, representing the middle of summer, and the shortening of the days on their gradual march to winter. Midsummer is traditionally celebrated on either the 23rd or 24th of June, although the longest day actually falls on the 21st of June. The importance of the day to our ancestors can be traced back many thousands of years, and many stone circles and other ancient monuments are aligned to the sunrise on Midsummer's Day. Probably the most famous alignment is that at Stonehenge, where the sun rises over the heel stone, framed by the giant trilithons on Midsummer morning.

In antiquity midsummer fires were lit in high places all over the countryside, and in some areas of Scotland Midsummer fires were still being lit well into the 18th century. This was especially true in rural areas, where the weight of reformation thinking had not been thoroughly assimilated. It was a time when the domestic beasts of the land were blessed with fire, generally by walking them around the fire in a sun-wise direction. It was also customary for people to jump high through the fires, folklore suggesting that the height reached by the most athletic jumper, would be the height of that years harvest.

After Christianity became adopted in Britain, the festival became known as St John's day and was still celebrated as an important day in the church calendar; the birthday of St John the Baptist. Traditionally St John's Eve (like the eve of many festivals) was seen as a time when the veil between this world and the next was thin, and when powerful forces were abroad. Vigils were often held during the night and it was said that if you spent a night at a sacred site during Midsummer Eve, you would gain the powers of a bard, on the down side you could also end up utterly mad, dead, or be spirited away by the fairies.

Indeed St Johns Eve was a time when fairies were thought to be abroad and at their most powerful (hence Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream).

St John's Wort was also traditionally gathered on this day, thought to be imbued with the power of the sun. Other special flowers (Vervain, trefoil, rue and roses) were also thought to be most potent at this time, and were traditionally placed under a pillow in the hope of important dreams, especially dreams about future lovers.

The festival is still important to pagans today, including the modern day druids who (barring any trouble) celebrate the solstice at Stonehenge in Wiltshire. For them the light of the sun on Midsummer's Day signifies the sacred Awen. For witches the summer solstice forms one of the lesser sabbats, their main festivals being Beltane (1st May) and Samhain. Some occultists still celebrate the ancient festivals around 11 days later than our calendar; this marks the 11 days, which were lost when the Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian calendar in 1751.

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Daniel Parkinson
Seannachaidh (not verified)

I'm from Scotland.  I was always taught this was the Festival of the All-Father. 

Father's Day is still celebrated in the UK on the Sunday closest to the Summer Solstice, (just as Mother's Day usually falls on the Sunday closest to the Spring Equinox Festival of the All-Mother). 

One aspect of All-Fathers' Day is that one celebrates all that is manly; in honour of the All-Father.  Masculine activities like proving onself in sports, trials of strength, horse racing, as well as competitions to see who had the best livestock.  A celebration of the best of the best in Celtic manhood, who then personified the vigour of the crops, and so also celebrated the mystical properties of growth. 

The festival has survived into modern times in Scotland in the custom of holding Highland Games at this time of year, although now, such games are staggered throughout the summer so it is possible to visit several, and spreading it all across the tourist season. 

In many Lowland areas the "Common Riding" Festivals incorporate many of the same aspects and customs, and are also staggered throughout the summer season.   Part of the Summer Solstice ritual was to walk the sacred paths, re-inforcing boundaries both spiritual and physical.  "Riding the Bounds" forms an important part of Common Riding customs to this day, as does choosing the "Best Lad" from the town to represent all that is vigorous and manly.


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Re: Midsummer's Day

This is something that has always puzzled me. If the first day of summer is around the 20th. June, and the first day of autumn around 21st. September, then surely midsummers day must be close to 6th. August? I think it would be more logical to call this mid-YEARS day, don't you?

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Re: Midsummer's Day

It is a wonderful experience to be part of this gathering of like-minded individuals who come, rain or shine, to the stones to celebrate the solstice. I love the summer months in the UK because of the rich diversity of festivals that are on offer. One of my favourites after Solistic celebration is the Isle of Wight Festival, which has been entertaining people for over forty years!

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Re: Midsummer's Day

I will be lighting a fire using wood from my old pine tree from December and also eucalyptus tree. giving thanks to the Earthmother and nature Laws. Peace to all.

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Ian Topham
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Joined: 23 Jul 2008
Re: Midsummer's Day

20,000 people were at Stonehenge this morning celebrating the solstice.



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