This week, we experienced the Summer Solstice. It takes place during the last 10 days of June each year and represents when the days start getting shorter and the nights start getting longer. When I was growing up, the word “Solstice” wasn’t mentioned much, unless you were taking a science class or studying astronomy. It was sometimes spoken in hushed tones because it had something to do with witchcraft or satanism. Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The summer solstice is a holiday that is celebrated throughout the northern hemisphere. It is a time of feasts and parties. Here are five things you might not have known about this holiday.
It’s Been Around A Long, Long Time
The Summer Solstice – also known as Midsummer – has been around since Neolithic times. Ancient man, especially farmers, knew when the middle of summer was, and they considered it a sacred holiday. It was a time to celebrate that the planting was over and to have hopes for a good harvest. By pagan ways, this was one of the most important holidays of the year, because the crops grown during the months following Midsummer, would determine whether they would survive the winter. There is nothing spooky or evil about a group of people hoping their children will have enough food to eat when there is snow on the ground.
It’s In The Bible
According to the Christian religion, John The Baptist was born exactly six months prior to Jesus and his birth is celebrated during the summer solstice or directly following it. The celebration is known as St. John’s Feastday. Although, the Bible makes no reference to when Jesus was born, it is generally assumed to be on December 25th, making this day apply. It is because of this, we see St. John’s Feastday as part of early Christianity and in the Roman culture.
It’s Not Just A Druid-Thing
There are literally dozens of countries, with dozens of religious and cultural backgrounds that use the Summer Solstice as a time for celebration. While we typically see in the news that modern-day Druids are having a bonfire at Stonehenge in England, it is not centralized on just that culture. Incidentally, no one really knows what the ancient Druid culture really was. The only accounts that we truly have of them is that which was written by Roman authors – the very people that successfully wiped them out! What we do know about them is that they were completely gone by the second century AD and that they were the intellectual branch of the Celts. They were not just priests, as is a common misconception, but would have fallen into the class of bards, judges, teachers, etc… According to the Roman, Pliny the Elder, the Druids believed in animism (the belief that animals have souls) and reincarnation. They also felt that mistletoe and oak were an important part of their culture. The belief that they did human sacrifice has long been discarded as Roman propaganda while they were warring with them. Incarnations of Druidism have popped up through the centuries and that is what we are familiar with today.
But I Thought There Was Witchcraft
I know. We’ve all heard about the witchcraft. This comes from the ancient religious beliefs about this holiday. In the old (and I mean really old) days, it was thought that plants that bloomed at Midsummer contained healing properties, because this was the height of the sunshine. People that believed in this type of herbalism were obviously in league with the devil and were thus, evil. It is also associated with fairies and hobgoblins, thanks to William Shakespeare’s comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is with these forest creatures of the night that some people find sinister. However, as we’ve stated, the Summer Solstice is not a night of evil, but rather one of celebration that the sun is finally here, people are generally healthier when the weather is warmer, and plants and animals (such as their livestock) are growing and producing. It was all about the good things in life!
Midsummer Around The World
It isn’t all scary, pagan bonfires, either (well, some of it is). In Austria, the solstice is celebrated with a procession of ships down the Danube; in Brazil – where it is winter during this time – they have parades, imbibe in alcohol, and dance; Bulgarians wake up to see the sun rise on the Solstice and gather herbs to keep people healthy; Canadians light bonfires; Croatians jump through the flames of a bonfire into rivers and lakes (that’s odd); in Denmark, they celebrate with picnics and fireworks (sort of like our fourth of July) and so on…In other words, the Solstice is a time for people to get together, have some food and socialize in the warm weather.