Midsummer’s Eve Magic & Traditions
Hello dear readers,
Midsummer’s Day is almost here! It’s full of fun and fascinating traditions, and thought to be the most magical day of the year in many places around the world. Originally an ancient pagan holiday to celebrate the summer solstice (the longest day of the year), Midsummer’s Day is usually observed on June 24, the feast day of John the Baptist, with festivities beginning the night before on Midsummer’s Eve.
The most famous reference to Midsummer’s Eve is William Shakespeare’s play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in which young lovers, a troupe of actors, and fairies have romantic and comical misadventures in the forest on Midsummer’s night.
The holiday is still actively celebrated in dozens of countries across Europe and in parts of the United Kingdom, Ireland, North and South America, and Russia. Feasting and merrymaking are a widespread tradition on Midsummer’s Eve, accompanied in nearly every nation by the lighting of bonfires. In olden days, the bonfire was thought to protect against powerful, evil spirits and witches, who were believed to roam freely when the sun was turning southward again. The bigger the fire, it was said, the further the mischievous spirits would stay away.
The 13th-century monk of Winchcomb in Gloucestershire, England, who compiled a book of sermons for the feast days, recorded that on St. John’s Eve, fires were lit to drive away dragons, which were thought to be abroad poisoning springs and wells.
In some countries, people dance barefoot on the bonfire’s smoldering embers, or jump over the flames. Leaping successfully over a Midsummer’s Eve bonfire is considered by many as a way to guarantee prosperity and avoid bad luck. In Spain, a person leaps three times while crying ‘meigas fora,’ which means ‘witches off!’
In some countries, Sweden in particular, Midsummer’s Eve is celebrated by raising a maypole covered in greens and flowers, and dancing around it to traditional music while singing and feasting.
Midsummer has long been thought to be one of the times of the year when magic is strongest, and there are many traditions and rituals that involve the night’s power to heal or to look into the future. In Bulgaria, it is said that anyone staying up and seeing the sunrise will be healthy throughout the year.
A Swedish tradition holds that if an unmarried woman collects bouquets of seven or nine different flowers and places them under her pillow, she will dream of her future husband. It was once believed that herbs picked at Midsummer were extremely potent, and water from springs had curative powers.
Another ancient tradition claims that any rose picked on Midsummer’s Eve or Midsummer’s Day will keep fresh until Christmas, and that at midnight on Midsummer’s Eve, if young girls scatter rose petals (called “rose leaves” at the time) and repeat an ancient saying, the next day their true love will visit them.
The saying goes as follows:
Rose leaves, rose leaves, rose leaves I strew;
He that will love me, come after me now.
I found these rituals and traditions so fascinating that I included some of them in my novel Jane Austen’s First Love, a book which is inspired by a true story.
Read on for an exclusive excerpt from the novel, about a very special moment Jane Austen experiences on Midsummer’s Eve in 1791.
Jane, mature for her 15 years and brimming with romantic ideals and literary ambition, is staying at Goodnestone Park in Kent, home of the Bridges family. There—over one mad, matchmaking summer—she falls in love with a remarkable young man, Edward Taylor. At a Midsummer’s Eve bonfire, Jane finds herself alone just after midnight with Edward Taylor:
Our eyes met and held in the moonlight. “I wish we could stay up until sunrise, like the Bulgarians,” said Edward. “I feel that I could talk to you all night.”
“I feel the same.”
What happened next took me by surprise. He leaned in close—very close—and said softly: “We proved the ancient Midsummer’s Eve legend tonight, did we not, Miss Jane?”
His nearness took my breath away; I could barely speak. “What do you mean?”
“Didn’t you toss the rose petals and recite the saying?”
“Was it me you hoped would come after you?”
A blush warmed my cheeks, silently admitting to the truth of his observations. He smiled.
“Well: it is Midsummer’s Day, and here I am, answering your call.” So saying, he gently kissed my cheek. Drawing back slightly, he paused for a long moment, looking at me. Then he turned and strode away across the grass ….
Reader, did any of these Midsummer’s Day traditions surprise or intrigue you? Do you and your family celebrate Midsummer’s Day? If so, how do you celebrate? Please share by leaving a comment!
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