Post by Joanna on Jun 19, 2015 13:00:15 GMT -5
Traditional Midsummer Celebrations in Europe
Midsummer is a time when myth and reality converge, when deities dance in woodlands and fiery festivities mark the advent of Midsummer’s Day. Primarily a European tradition, different countries have their own unique and often colorful take on this festival. While the Summer Solstice falls on or near June 21, celebrations are often set on Midsummer’s Day (June 24th) – the solstice during Roman times. Midsummer’s Eve (June 23) has long been connected to magical beings such as fairies (popularized in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream), while stone circles are said to come alive with ancient folk who melt into the dawn of Midsummer’s Day. Originally a pagan holiday, the Church June 24 the feast of John the Baptist and the resulting celebrations are often an odd cocktail of Christianity and paganism, dedicated to St. John through the use of pre-Christian rites and imagery.
Jani (Latvia). When it comes to Midsummer, the Latvians know how to party! Known as Jani (meaning John), the festival is celebrated on a grand scale by almost everyone in Latvia and people of Latvian origin around the world. People eat, drink and make merry with traditional Janu cheese, beer and traditional folk songs. Latvians also keep a bonfire burning all night and jump over it, the women wearing wreaths of flowers and the mean wearing leaves (above). Even cars and trucks are adorned with oak branches and leaves during.
Noc Swietojanska (Poland). Midsummer in Poland is usually celebrated on Midsummer’s Eve (June 23). Known as Noc Swietojanska (St John’s Night), festivities begin around 8 o’clock and locals dance ’til dawn. Polka dress is the traditional garb and flower wreaths are thrown into the Baltic Sea, lakes and rivers. Organized events abound in major Polish cities, with Wianki (meaning wreaths) a traditional favorite in Kraków.
juhannus (Finland). Midsummer was called Ukon juhla, for the Finnish god Ukko, before 1316. Bonfires burned side by side, the biggest known as the “bonfire of Ukko.” When Christianity came, Midsummer was renamed juhannus for John the Baptist. The holiday has been held on Saturday since 1955 and many workplaces close at noon. Bonfires commonly burn at lake sides, while two young birch trees (koivu) sit at either side of front doors to welcome visitors. Swedish-speaking Finns often celebrate by erecting a Midsummer pole. The midnight sun is also an important feature of Midsummer in Finland because of its location within the Arctic Circle where nights near Midsummer are short or non-existent, contrasting with the darkness of winter.
Chester Midsummer Watch Festival (England). Midsummer’s Eve in Britain has commonly been a time of fairies and other otherworldly beings, which never sat well with the Christian elite. But other Midsummer festivities – even those based on biblical events, such as the Chester Mystery Plays – were unpopular with the Reformed establishment because of their roots in Catholicism, and were duly banned. Beginning in 1498, the Chester Midsummer Watch Parade was held every Summer Solstice when the mystery plays weren’t performed. Key characters in the parade included giants (above) and unicorns, however, in 1675, the parade was banned and the costumes destroyed. Today the festivities are back and enjoying a healthy rejuvenation.
Golowan (Cornwall, England). Traditional Midsummer bonfires burn on high hills such as Carn Brea and Castle an Dinas, St. Columb Major. The Old Cornwall Society revived the tradition in the early 20th century. Bonfires in Cornwall were once common as a part of Golowan, now celebrated at Penzance. The week-long festival normally starts on the Friday nearest St John’s Day and culminates in Mazey Day – a revival of the Feast of St John (Gol-Jowan) with fireworks and bonfires.
Midsummer Carnivals (Ireland). Many towns and cities in Ireland celebrate Midsummer with fairs, concerts and fireworks. Festivities are usually held on Midsummer’s Day or the closest weekend – a good idea considering that Irish propensity for merrymaking. In rural locales, bonfires are occasionally lit on hilltops, similar to those in Cornwall. This tradition has its roots in pagan times and in County Limerick, there are traditional offerings to deities such Áine, a Celtic goddess whose name means “light.”
Ivan’s Day (Russia and Ukraine). The Russian Midsummer Night is known as Ivan’s Day – Ivan Kupala being the old Russian name for John the Baptist – and one of the most flamboyant folk holidays in Russia and the Ukraine. It is a pagan fertility rite that has been accepted by the Orthodox Christian calendar. Midsummer rites are often connected to water, with girls floating flower garlands in rivers and observing their movement as a means of telling their fortunes. Skinny dipping is common as is jumping over bonfires (above). Some practices once suppressed by the Russian Empire, Russian Orthodox Church and later the Communist Party have since been resurrected.
Sources: Tom, Urban Ghosts, Sun Worship Around the World, and Celebrations of the Past.
“Things You May Not Have Known about the Summer Solstice”: whatliesbeyond.boards.net/thread/edit/3896
“Summer Solstice: Its Significance and How it’s Celebrated around the World”: whatliesbeyond.boards.net/thread/edit/1888