Not a commercial for a feminine hygiene product, the 21st of June is Midsummer’s Eve – an event widely celebrated in the Northern European countries – particularly Scandinavia, however, it is more commonly known elsewhere simply as the Summer Solstice.
Beyond the obvious fact that it is finally the first Day of Summer, according to G.S. Hawkins in the book, “Stonehenge Decoded,” the historical significance of the summer solstice can be traced to pre-historic times when…
…summer was a joyous time of the year for those Aboriginal people who lived in the northern latitudes. The snow had disappeared; the ground had thawed out; warm temperatures had returned; flowers were blooming; leaves had returned to the deciduous trees. Some herbs could be harvested, for medicinal and other uses. Food was easier to find. The crops had already been planted and would be harvested in the months to come. Although many months of warm/hot weather remained before the fall, they noticed that the days were beginning to shorten, so that the return of the cold season was inevitable.
The first (or only) full moon in June is called the Honey Moon. Tradition holds that this is the best time to harvest honey from the hives.
This time of year, between the planting and harvesting of the crops, was the traditional month for weddings. This is because many ancient peoples believed that the “grand [sexual] union” of the Goddess and God occurred in early May at Beltaine. Since it was unlucky to compete with the deities, many couples delayed their weddings until June. June remains a favorite month for marriage today. In some traditions, “newly wed couples were fed dishes and beverages that featured honey for the first month of their married life to encourage love and fertility. The surviving vestige of this tradition lives on in the name given to the holiday immediately after the ceremony: The Honeymoon.“
Upping the uff da! ante, I did some research and found this tasty little morsel:
As indicated by the Swedish Tourism website, FÖRST,
Midsummer’s eve is probably the most popular festival day in Sweden, together with Christmas. Midsummer is an old pagan celebration, dating back to the Viking Era. It was a fertility rite originally, where the May pole was a phallic symbol, “impregnating” Mother nature. It was hoped that this would help to give a good harvest in the autumn. In modern times, it is a national holiday, where family and friends meet, eat herring and fresh potatoes and drink schnapps and beer. The actual day of the celebration is also the longest day of the year (summer solstice), signifying that summer has reached the half-way point.
You had me at Viking… but I stayed for the herring and beer. Nonetheless, the aforementioned Honeymoon is just beginning. Here in Southeast Alaska, the summer solstice is certainly, to the best of my experience, a predecessor to the longest days of fishing, the biggest surge of tourists, mosquitos, and irrefutably, the longest morning-after hangovers.
Sitka’s rich history includes the infamous Raid on St. Michael’s, which occurred sometime around the summer solstice of 1802, when hundreds of Tlingit warriors attacked the Russian/Aleut settlement of St. Michael’s, near present-day Sitka, killing nearly all the inhabitants. According to Polly Miller in “Lost Heritage of Alaska,”
In the carefully planned assault, half of the attacking forces came by canoe and the other half descended on the fort from the surrounding forest. A Russian historian named Kiril Khlebnikov wrote this passage about the attack: The Tlingits “suddenly emerged noiselessly from the shelter of the impenetrable forests, armed with guns, spears, and daggers. Their faces were covered with masks representing the heads of animals, and smeared with red and other paint; their hair was tied up and powdered with eagle down. Some of the masks were shaped in imitation of ferocious animals with gleaming teeth and of monstrous beings. They were not observed until they were close to the barracks; and the people lounging about the door had barely time to rally and run into the building when the [Tlingits], surrounding them in a moment with wild and savage yells, opened fire from their guns at the windows. A terrific uproar was continued in imitation of the cries of animals represented by their masks, with the object of inspiring greater terror.”
Suffice it to say that not everyone is always celebrating in the same manner…
Meanwhile, I took a stroll this Midsummer’s eve beneath a satiny blue sky dappled with graying clouds and just a smattering of white light. Inhaling the wildly fragrant combination of Sitka roses, mountain ash, forget-me-nots, fading skunk cabbage, and a drunk guy urinating between buildings, I realized that winter is already on it’s way. Uff da!
* Thanks to Ragtime Piano for the Honey Moon Rag pic
*Be sure and check out the Ray Troll book, Rapture of the Deep, for more of his amazing art!