Friday, 20 June 2014


Tomorrow is the longest day of the year, or Summer Solstice, when the hours of daylight are at their longest and those of darkness at their shortest. Around this time comes Midsummer's Eve (followed by Midsummer's Day). Different cultures celebrate it on different days, some on the day before the Solstice, and others a couple of days later on the 23rd June. In northern European countries, such as Sweden, it is celebrated on the third Friday in June with bonfires, singing and feasting.

Midsummer's Eve was traditionally a magical time when the human world and the fairy world meet. Our ancestors built fires to celebrate the longest day and to bless their livestock and the forthcoming harvest. It was also held to be the best time for people to divine their future love, by making potions and performing rites using herbs and flowers which are at their peak at this time of year.

Many writers have been inspired by Midsummer's Eve. In 'I Capture the Castle' by Dodie Smith seventeen-year-old Cassandra celebrates her 'rites' by gathering flowers and lighting a bonfire:

'wild flowers - I can't remember if that is traditional or if Rose and I made it up: mallow, campion and bluebells for the garland to hang round our necks, foxgloves to carry, and we always wore wild roses in our hair ... There wasn't a breath of wind as I climbed the mound. The sun was down - usually I begin the rites by watching it sink ...the sky beyond Belmotte Tower was a watery yellow with one streak of green across it - vivid green, most magically beautiful ...I watched until the yellow faded, too - then turned towards the moon still low over the wheat field. The blue all around her had deepened so much that she no longer looked pale, but like masses of luminous snow'

In Shakespeare's comedy, 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', a group of lovers and actors are lost in the forest on Midsummer's night. The fairies who live in the forest control and mislead the humans until the morning when order is restored. It has a magical, ethereal quality and the language evokes the beauty of summer flowers:

Years ago just before we got married my husband and I went to the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in London to watch a production of this play. It was a magical experience, and the audience sat entranced as night fell and lanterns and fairy lights lit the stage.

The novelist and poet Thomas Hardy also captured that magic in his poem 
'On A Midsummer Eve':

I idly cut a parsley stalk,
And blew therein towards the moon;
I had not thought what ghosts would walk
With shivering footsteps to my tune.

I went and knelt, and scooped my hand
As if to drink, into the brook,
And a faint figure seemed to stand
Above me, with the bygone look.

I lipped rough rhymes of chance, not choice,
I thought not what my words might be;
There came into my ear a voice
That turned a tenderer verse for me.

My own Midsummer traditions are modest (no dancing or lighting bonfires for me!). I always have in the house flowers from the garden and a scented candle . I love Yankee Candles and my favourite is this one, Midsummer's Night, which has a heady and summery perfume.

 Whether you mark the occasion or not, it's undeniably a very special time of year x

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