This Saturday, June 21, is the summer solstice, also known as Midsummer. In Canada summer is a hallowed season, one we all anticipate with great joy and revel in once it officially arrives. In the Okanagan we are perhaps the most spoiled of the regions with our milder climate but even here everyone starts to chomp at the bit until the real heat of summer starts. Patios become populated and gardens grow and the lake buzzes with boats; everyone seems to breathe deeper and enjoy life just a bit more. And why not?
The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, the time when we get the most sun. All that vitamin D is part of what makes us feel more vibrant, but there have been rituals and celebrations at this time of year for centuries, both in religious traditions and pagan. St. John the Baptist is said to have been born June 24, and the solstice was a celebration of light and a time to chase away any bad spirits that may be roaming freely at the point when the sun turned southward again. A tradition that exists today from both these events is to light bonfires (evil spirits don't like fire, apparently). It is also said that the solstice is the best time to pick many of the medicinal herbs, especially the flowering midsummer varieties such as Calendula and St. John's Wort.
Magic is thought to be at one of its strongest points in the year at the solstice, especially the kind that looks into the future. Hence the many traditions that exist around young girls performing some ritual in hopes of seeing their future husband, like bending over a well to see his reflection or putting seven different flower blossoms under her pillow before going to sleep. Celebrating fertility is a big part of Midsummer festivals; in Sweden there continues to be a surge of babies born in March (if you do the math, it all works out). In other countries naked dancing and similar merrymaking occurred. Although this may have been a pagan ritual the church worked more to incorporate celebrations into ones with religious overtones than quash the rituals altogether. After all, historically March was a good time to have young babies as the weather was improving and food was more plentiful.
Decorating with greenery is also a solstice custom - there's your excuse to fill your garden or window boxes! Feasts with new shoots, fresh fish, summer beer and fruit desserts are also common. (I know, like we need another excuse to eat fresh food, right? Well, it never hurts ...)
So, you get the idea. Feel free to get out on the lawn and dance in the moonlight - just watch you don't step on any fairies. Open up some bubbly and toss in a few fresh strawberries, smell the flowers in the garden, take a deep breath of summer air. Even if you just venture out to your favourite patio with friends, toast another season of warmth and new possibilities.
Here's to a fabulous summer full of good magic!