Category Archives: Midsummer

Glad Midsommar

No matter what we humans do through our policies and laws and actions to each other and to our planet, still that planet keeps to its tilted-axis spinning and keeps its course around the sun. Yesterday morning at 6:07 Lake Worth time, which is currently Eastern Daylight Time, we reached the point where that tilt translated to the greatest amount of sunlight for the Northern Hemisphere. Longest day of the year, longest amount of sunlight: the Summer Solstice. It was the opposite situation in the Southern Hemisphere, which experienced its longest night. This vast celestial clockwork of tilted planet orbiting its star amongst the billions of heavenly bodies orbiting other heavenly bodies: this is what creates our seasons and our understanding of life as we know it on our small planet. Our lengthening and shortening days a manifest distillation of all the mechanics of the universe.

Bringing things back home, we find ourselves at an auspicious juncture of the year. Although we don’t do much here in the States to celebrate the Summer Solstice (we are not, by and large, a very celebratory people), in other places these are very important days, especially in Europe, and especially in Scandinavia, which is no wonder: there are places near the Arctic Circle that are bathed these days in almost continuous sunlight. The Church early on understood the significance of these days and their rich symbolism, and so the birth of John the Baptist was assigned to the Summer Solstice and the birth of Christ was assigned to the Winter Solstice. No one knows for sure when exactly these two historical figures were born, but placing the birth of Christ at the Winter Solstice is potent symbolism for the darkest nights of the year (a light in the darkness) and placing the birth of the prophet who would pave the way for that light at the Summer Solstice reaffirms that symbolism. Both events occur just a few days after their respective solstices, and here now comes St. John’s Day on the 24th of June, with a celebration that begins with St. John’s Eve on the 23rd. It is the mirror in the wheel of the year to Christmas. And just as the magic that accompanies Christmas is focused primarily on its Eve, so the same with St. John’s Day. It is long considered in popular folklore a portal night, a night when the pathways between worlds is most permeable. It is the night of William Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for this, by traditional reckoning of time, is Old Midsummer, just as Christmas comes at Old Midwinter, for although the solstices bring the start of summer and winter by the almanac, our ancestors in their particular wisdom saw light increasing each day until the Summer Solstice and then decreasing afterward, as it does. To them, the solstice was the height of summer, and so they called it as they saw it: Midsummer. We are on the downward side of the solstice from here on out. Each day a little bit of sunlight will be shaved off our daily tally… by the equinox three months from now day and night will be balanced; three months later at the solstice of Midwinter, we will experience our darkest night. I contemplate all these things and find beauty in the symbolism as well as in the logic.

As for the portals: our mostly logical 21st century minds don’t subscribe much to magic, but magic can take many forms and can mean different things to different people. If you want to think of magic in terms of calling down joy to your life, in transforming the events of each day into positivity through an open and giving attitude, well, I am all for that magic. This is a powerful alchemy, a magic we all have access to. There are places, though, where folks insist they run into magic of a more ethereal kind, still today in this logical world we live in. Those in Ireland and Britain have their faeries; the Icelanders have their Huldufólk; the Finns, who are so prominent here, have their Haltijas. I feel as if I’ve caught some glimpses of this particular kind of magic in my day, perhaps through the view that is available through a sideways glance, which maybe is one available portal. And if a night like St. John’s Eve can make those portals more open, well, again… I am all for bridges and understanding. I’ve been on a mission these days to read books in my bookcase that I bought over the years and never opened, and one I am reading right now is about parallel universes. The book was printed in 1988 and so a lot has progressed since then in the realm of quantum physics, but as I read each chapter I am reminded of how vast and truly bizarre our universe is. At this point, I am pretty much open to anything.


Image: “Glad Midsommar” is Swedish forHappy Midsummer.” That’s a card I designed and printed letterpress for some midsummer event or other. Nearby to us this St. John’s Eve we’ve our choice of a midsummer bonfire at the Finnish American Club west of town or a Midsommar celebration and Smörgåsbord at the Swedish coffee house in neighboring West Palm Beach. I’ll have spent the afternoon teaching the first of two Book Arts 101: Midsummer Night’s Dream workshops at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts, so I will, most likely, be beat, and Seth will probably light a fire in the copper fire bowl in the backyard and we’ll sit there shirtless in the summer heat, with a glass of something, watching the flames as they illuminate the brief and breezy Atlantic night. And that’s not so bad, is it? Seats are still available in the workshops, by the way. You should join me.


Old Midsummer

The summer solstice has passed, that longest day, shortest night. And just as at the opposite side of the year the winter solstice is followed quickly by Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so now come St. John’s Eve and St. John’s Day. These are the celebrations known as Midsummer. We don’t pay much attention to them here in the States, but there’s a lot we don’t pay attention to, and we are the poorer for it. In other places, though––Italy, for instance, and Scandinavia especially––these are high celebratory days. St. John’s Eve, on the evening of June 23rd, welcomes in St. John’s Day on June 24th. With the understanding that there is probably little community celebration you will find if you live in the United States (unless, like me, you live near transplanted Arctic peoples like Swedes and Finns), here are some suggestions on how to honor these days with simple yet reverent ceremony.

  1. Blow the dust off a copy of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and read it. Read it aloud with family and friends or read it to yourself. Tonight, St. John’s Eve, is the very night in which this magical comedy is set, steeped in Midsummer lore and traditions.
  2. Watch the film. There have been numerous film versions, but my favorite is the 1999 Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Michael Hoffman. It features Rupert Everett as Oberon and Michelle Pfeiffer as Titania with Stanley Tucci as Puck. Seth and I watch this one most every year around Midsummer. Oh, but if perchance the play is being performed near you… go see it. That’s an even better option.
  3. Listen to Felix Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  4. Tonight, build a little fire in your back yard and sit and enjoy it. Or light a candle. Our ancestors loved to build beseeching bonfires for nights like this; there is something undeniably magical about it.
  5. If you’re a local, here’s a wonderful thing to do Saturday night for St. John’s Day: attend the Midnight Sun Festival at Kerhotalo: the American Finnish Club. Seth and I plan to be there. Festivities begin at 7 PM and the bonfire is lit around 9. There will be food available and there will be music, and it’s $5 to get in, from what I can tell. (Most all the literature from the American Finnish Club is in Finnish with just a smattering of English, so I always have to make assumptions about the salient points.) It’s usually not a big crowd, but it is a welcoming one, even if you don’t speak the language. The American Finnish Club is west of Lake Worth at 908 Lehto Lane, Lake Worth, Florida 33461. From Lake Worth, head west on 6th Avenue South, which becomes Melaleuca Lane once you’re outside the city limits. Not much past Kirk Road, you’ll see Lehto Lane on your right. If you get to Military Trail, you’ve gone too far west.

I hope these things help you to have a wonderful evening. Oh but here’s one more: just get outside. Take a nighttime ramble. Enjoy the evening. Perhaps you’ll find flowers that bloom only at night, spicing the air. Or maybe you’ll see fireflies or above, stars and satellites. Or maybe just fall asleep, and dream. Happy Midsummer.


Image: “Midsommardans” (which translates from the Swedish to “Midsummer Dance”) by Anders Zorn. Oil on canvas, 1897 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons. Note the Midsummer Maypole with the circles in the upper right corner.



In the Northern Hemisphere, just past midnight tonight, arrives the summer solstice. The precise moment is 12:24 AM here in the Eastern Daylight Time Zone, but if you’ve been reading the Convivio Book of Days for any length of time, I think you know how I feel about precision. I am more of a roundabout kind of guy. Be that as it may, come 12:24 AM here in Lake Worth, it will, officially by the almanac, be summer.

Though I may not care much for precise moments in time, still it is important to have precision in our lives, and so here comes yet another apology from your humble Book of Days author, for I have been leading you astray for years now in yet another matter, a scientific one. This time it turns out I’ve been absolutely wrong about the celestial mechanics of our great planet. I have always pictured the planet rocking back and forth as it orbits the sun, like a great pendulum, thereby creating our seasons. I was so wrong. Here’s what I’ve learnt, only since the last solstice in December: our great planet remains fixed as it spins, always tilted at 23.5 degrees, and it is this constant tilt of the planet that creates the seasons. We travel around the sun; a journey that lasts for one year. For half the year the Northern Hemisphere receives more sunlight thanks to this tilt. And for the other half of the year, the Southern Hemisphere receives more sunlight. So, thanks to this 23.5 degree tilt, we in the Northern Hemisphere receive more sunlight from the vernal equinox in March through the autumnal equinox in September.

It’s all about geometry, which is probably why it’s taken me so many years to grasp this basic understanding. I checked out from math somewhere along the time that geometry was introduced to my studies. My loss, I know, but apparently yours, too, if you’ve been reading all these years and believing what I’ve been telling you.

But now that we are all in the know and have a different (ahem, accurate) depiction of our planet’s celestial mechanics, let us focus on the social customs of the summer solstice, this longest day. The solstice marks the furthest north the sun will appear in the sky. The sun will appear to stand still there at its northern zenith, and that’s the origin of the word solstice, from the Latin sol stetit, “sun stands still.” The days have been lengthening since the winter solstice in December, but now once again daylight begins to wane. Each day after the solstice there will be a few seconds less sunlight than the day before, and so it will go until the winter solstice comes once more next December. Each day slightly different than the one before and the one to follow: the constant rearrange. Even for those of us who do not like change, the understanding that change is forever happening.

It is the start of summer by the almanac, but by traditional reckoning of time, summer began at the start of May with the arrival of May Day. This older approach to time places the solstices and the equinoxes at the middle of each season, which is a considerably more logical approach. At least I think so. Looking at things as our ancestors did, it begins to seem odd to mark the start of summer with this last of the lengthening days, and the start of winter with the last of the lengthening nights. These days are, more naturally, midpoints of the seasons.

And so our ancestors thought of this time as Midsummer, with Midwinter at the winter solstice. Pagan festivals grew up around these celestial events and eventually, with the spread of Christianity, so did Church festivals. To Midwinter the Church attached the birth of Christ; to Midsummer, the birth of John the Baptist. And while we don’t celebrate these holidays precisely on the solstice, they are both solidly connected to the celestial events and the times of sol stetit with both Christmas and St. John’s Day just a few days after their respective solstice, the sun appearing to stand still at both.

Across cultures, these transitional times were long considered magical. Witches and fairies and sprites were more active, animals gained powers of speech. Our friend William Shakespeare was well attuned to this lore: his comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I have long loved, is set on St. John’s Eve. In the play, the realm of the fairies and the realm of the mortals blend as one, at least for a night or two. This is the magic that can attend these days, as the balance of light and dark on our planet begins to shift again. Summer is here, but it’s been here a while already. Magic is here, too, revealed to us if we are open. I love this, and these are some of my favorite days each year, even though they are not much celebrated. I think that’s too bad. I hope you’ll come back and read more about them here at the blog come St. John’s Eve on the 23rd: Old Midsummer Eve. For now, though: Solstice Greetings.


Image: Voyager Golden Record. It’s the gold aluminum cover designed to protect the Voyager 1 and 2 “Sounds of Earth” gold-plated records from micrometeorite bombardment. The cover also serves a double purpose in providing the finder a key to playing the record. The explanatory diagram appears on both the inner and outer surfaces of the cover, as the outer diagram will be eroded in time. Flying aboard Voyagers 1 and 2 are identical “golden” records, carrying the story of Earth far into deep space. The 12 inch gold-plated copper discs contain greetings in 60 languages, samples of music from different cultures and eras, and natural and human-made sounds from Earth. They also contain electronic information that an advanced technological civilization could convert into diagrams and photographs. Currently, both Voyager probes are sailing adrift in the black sea of interplanetary space, flying towards the outmost border of our solar system. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 1977 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.