Category Archives: Midsummer

Midsummer Solstice

June 21 this year brings the June Solstice: Midsummer in the Northern Hemisphere, Midwinter in the Southern. As precision goes, the solstice moment this time around, more or less (for there are variations east and west within time zones), is 10:57 AM here in US Eastern Daylight Time. That is the moment when the sun’s rays strike the Tropic of Cancer, 23.5° north of the Equator. It is our longest day in the Northern Hemisphere. And for a lovely explanation of why (by way of a fresh lemon representing Earth), I invite you to watch a short video by one of the people on this planet that I really admire: Lia Leendertz, author of The Almanac, which you might think of as a Book of Days with a British focus, explains the celestial mechanics while offering some thoughts on Midsummer in a charming video she released just yesterday.

This 23.5° tilt of the Earth brings us our seasons, and today, we reach the extreme that brings the most sunlight to the Northern Hemisphere. It is the start of summer by the almanac, but our ancestors saw this as the height of summer, hence its older monicker: Midsummer. And just as the Midwinter solstice in December is soon followed by Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so too is the Midsummer solstice soon followed by St. John’s Eve and St. John’s Day. St. John’s Eve will come on Friday, the evening of the 23rd, and St. John’s Day on the 24th. This St. John is John the Baptist: the cousin of Jesus, he who was sent to prepare his way. All those feast days of saints that we celebrate throughout the year… like when we eat zeppole on St. Joseph’s Day, or minne de virgine on St. Agatha’s Day, or soda bread on St. Patrick’s Day: all these feasts commemorate the day each of these people left this earthly life. There are only three birthdays the Church celebrates each year: Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist. It’s the two cousins that are the more fascinating here, because the Church placed their birthdates at the solstices. No one knows for sure when they were actually born, but they are placed in this particular order in the round of the year for metaphoric reasons: St. John is born at the brightest time of the year, the time of our longest days. But what happens immediately after the Midsummer solstice? Sunlight begins to decrease a little bit each day. It is the Constant Rearrange: no day exactly like the one that came before or the one that follows. John himself tells us something to the effect of, “I must decrease so he may increase.” John prepares the way for Jesus, the Light of the World. And Jesus is born then, at the opposite pole of the year, the time of our darkest days, our longest nights, just as sunlight is again increasing.

That is one version, anyway. It is the old old story and a fascinating one: the story of our planet and its place in the universe and it is our story, too, no matter which players you place in the roles. The planet continues its journey around the sun at its 23.5° tilt and with it comes summer and fall and winter and spring and therein, in this simplicity, lies the mystery. The mystery of our unfolding days and the spiraling circular nature of our existence.


Join me on Friday, June 23, in the afternoon hours before St. John’s Eve begins, for the Real Mail Fridays Midsummer Social on Zoom. This online social runs from 2 to 5 Eastern, and you may come and go as you please for time to get things done (letter writing or otherwise) in the company of friends from around the globe. We will feature music by Felix Mendelssohn and readings from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, mixed in with some other music fitting for the height of summer, and once an hour we’ll take a little break for some casual banter. We welcome you to join us from wherever you are by clicking here. Real Mail Fridays is always a very heartwarming time and this week it’s a midsummery time, too.

Saturday evening, St. John’s Night, Seth & I are thinking about going to the Midsummer Fest––the Juhannusjuhla––outdoors at Finnish-American Village, weather permitting. There’ll be a traditional midsummer bonfire! Entry is $5. Finnish American Village is at 1800 South Drive here in Lake Worth, Florida. The festivities begin at 6 PM, but if we go, we’ll be going later, as I am teaching a workshop that day at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts called Book Arts 101: Midsummer Night’s Dream and then we’ll be having a traditional Swedish Midsommar feast, of the carry-out sort, from our friends at Johan’s Jöe in West Palm Beach. They are accepting Midsommar catering orders through Thursday. Everything at Johan’s is always delicious! Here’s a link to order your own Midsommar feast from Johan’s. Highly recommended!

Also online, I invite you to watch the episode of Stay Awake Bedtime Stories that I recorded last year for Midsummer: It’s my own retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, an adaptation of the 1899 story version by Edith Nesbit. It’s a fun time. And in the video, I’m wearing an awesome floral crown that Seth made for me. Click here to watch.


At our online catalog, use discount code BLOSSOM to take $10 off your order of $85 or more, plus get free domestic shipping. Good on everything in the shop! Click here to shop! Happy Midsummer to you all. Glad Midsommar. Hyvää Juhannusta.


Image: “Summer Night (Sommernatt)” by Harald Sohlberg. Oil on canvas, 1899. National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.



June’s Bookish Days

And now we enter mid-June and with that entrance come three wonderful celebrations, all of which have at least some literary connexion. First comes Bloomsday on this 16th of June. Ulysses, the stream-of-consciousness novel by James Joyce, was no small feat to write and nor is it so to read. The Modern Library edition I have in my bookcase is 783 pages long. What is perhaps most astounding about Ulysses is the entire journey through those 783 pages takes place all on one day and all in one place: Dublin on the 16th of June, 1904. If you are in Dublin, you can expect to see many people about today in Edwardian garb, following the path that Leopold Bloom took through the city in the novel. The serious ones will eat fried pork kidney for breakfast and they will stop at the apothecary to buy lemon soap and have lunch at Davy Burne’s pub on Duke Street: a Gorgonzola sandwich and a good glass of burgundy.

I am an English major; I love the idea of a literary pilgrimage. Those of us not in Dublin, though, can still make a day of it: you might read some Joyce. If Ulysses is too much for you, may I suggest Dubliners: a collection of short stories also set in Dublin. James Joyce gave us with Ulysses what many consider the greatest novel in the English language, but with Dubliners, he gives us what may very well be the language’s greatest story: its the closing story of the book, a story called “The Dead.” It’s set at midwinter, not midsummer, but still works well for a day honoring Joyce. If you’re not up for reading the story, watch the film adaptation created by John Huston in 1987. It’s excellent. Huston taps into Joyce’s writing style by making the camera practically another character. Another fine thing to do to mark the day: listen to Kate Bush sing a song she recorded in 1989 called “The Sensual World.” It’s based on the closing words of Ulysses, a soliloquy by Molly Bloom, Leopold’s wife:

… and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

Ralph Ellison, he gave us his own stream-of-consciousness novel in an unfinished work called Juneteenth, a book I read a couple of Junes ago for that sacred day on the 19th of June. Our newest national holiday is not new at all: it may have been given official designation as a federal holiday just two years ago, but the celebration goes back to June 19, 1865, the day when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned that they were free. The roots of Juneteenth lie in the Emancipation Proclamation, two years into the Civil War. The Proclamation, on the First of January, 1863, freed “all enslaved people in the states currently engaged in rebellion against the Union.” Soldiers of the Union Army made their way across the cities and plantations of the South, reading the Proclamation and spreading the news. In places still under Confederate control, though, the news would take longer to spread. Emancipation Day here in Florida, for instance, came on May 20, 1865, when the news was read in Tallahassee, eleven days after the war had ended.

In Texas, the westernmost Confederate State, Emancipation came a month later. Union troops arrived on Galveston Island on the 18th of June and the next day, June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger read this proclamation from a Galveston balcony:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

By 1866, Juneteenth celebrations were sprouting up all over Texas and continued spreading, mostly among African American communities, throughout the country. These earliest Juneteenth celebrations brought folks out in their finest clothes for parades and barbecue and music. Juneteenth has since become a celebration of hard-earned freedoms, and a celebration of African-American culture. A day for family and friends to gather, a day to share stories, and to learn. And now, for these past two years, a national holiday. The road getting here has never been easy, and so it is as well a day to reassure each other against adversity and challenge. The fact that the road is still being forged is all too evident these days, as we continue to work through our troubled history and find paths forward, paths toward true equality, and toward the elimination of racism at levels to which society seems at times blind. Here in Florida these days, things are only regressing. For those of us who work in state-sponsored education, the limits imposed by state law in the last year on what we can discuss with our students is truly disheartening.

I like to think of Juneteenth as another shot at making things right and Lord knows we need that now. If it helps, think of Juneteenth as this country’s second independence day: independence from backwards thinking. We all have to play our part in making wrongs right.

And in a week’s time it will be Midsummer: St. John’s Eve on the 23rd of June, followed by St. John’s Day on the 24th. It is the setting of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That’s a night of some powerful magic, and that, my friends, deserves its own chapter in this Book of Days, even though it is a time not held in much reverence here in the US. But that it our loss. Midsummer is yet another June celebration that steps off the pages of books. How wonderful to have our breath still taken away by the things of this world.


Pride, Flamboyants, & Your June Book of Days

Here in Lake Worth, the Royal Poinciana trees are beginning to erupt into red and orange blossoms, as they do each and every June. Of all the flowering trees here in this strange green land, the Royal Poincianas are the most majestic, the most magical, and perhaps the best reason to be in this place as summer’s heat begins to dig in its heels. Some folks call them Flame Trees, and in Brazil, I’ve just learnt, they are called Flamboyants. And our cover star for this month’s Convivio Book of Days Calendar is called just that: it’s a circa 1928 oil painting by Brazilian artist Lucílio de Albuquerque of our beloved local trees, which apparently bloom in Brazil, as well (though certainly at the opposite side of the year, as their summer approaches in December).

The June calendar may be belated this year, but luckily not much is going on, calendar-wise, until mid month, when the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua comes around. San Antonio was one of Grandma’s favorites, as saints go, and still to this day when we have misplaced something we call on him to help us find it. My most recent find was a novel I’d been reading, Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy. I was in the final chapter last fall when suddenly the book was no where to be found. I looked and looked, and then I despaired, and then I remembered the words, “Tony, Tony, come around; something’s lost and must be found,” but Tony was slow to respond and I forgot all about it until one day last month when I was organizing the printshop and found, there behind one of the type cabinets, my book. Would I have found it without St. Anthony’s help? Possibly. I thanked him all the same and remembered the day my nephew lost a gold bracelet not once but twice at the shore of the Atlantic Ocean and both times Mom prayed to St. Anthony and both times, the bracelet was found: once washing in on the tide, and then again clinging to some sea foam covered seaweed. To be sure, Mom’s patience was tried with the second loss, and I bet so was St. Anthony’s. As for my Thomas Hardy novel, I’ve decided to start again at the beginning. Luckily, the way my mind works, it’s like I’m reading it for the first time, and the ending will certainly be a surprise as I never reached it last year. It is good, sometimes, to have a mind that resets on a regular basis.

After St. Anthony’s Day comes Bloomsday and Juneteenth and Juneteenth feels particularly important this year here in a state where books about African American history and by African American authors are being banned left and right, not to mention the fact that June is also Pride Month and the same is happening to the LGBQT community here, too. I know people who think these new laws here in Florida are not so bad but I wonder if anyone has bothered to ask the kids which they think is scarier: drag queens or active shooter drills. Let’s be honest: this is not about protecting children; it’s about silencing the voices of minorities. It began here as a K through 5 initiative but was recently expanded to Grade 12, and at the state university where I work, anything with the word Diversity attached to it has been scrubbed and the exhibition I was planning for the fall semester, an exhibition of artists’ books by John Eric Broaddus, a gay book artist who died of AIDS in 1990, has been canceled. Welcome to Florida, Land of Big Government. Here, the First Amendment only applies if you agree with the powers that be. Dissenting voices –– certainly at least half of us in this state –– are referred to as “Those People” and we find ourselves not represented at all by our elected officials for we are held up not as fellow citizens but as the enemy.

I find myself in the Those People camp because I do not agree with all these acts of restriction and suppression. And I find myself talking about this here and now because it is Pride Month. And it is not the rainbows and the pronouns that matter to me so much (I’m an English major; the pronoun thing is tough even for me, purely for grammatical reasons) but what matters to me is authenticity, and this, I think, is the value of Pride: letting people know it is ok to be themselves. Even now in my position at work I see young people who are afraid to come out to the people they love most for fear of rejection: they are afraid their parents won’t accept them. They are afraid of being disowned, afraid of being suddenly homeless, afraid of losing the love of those they love. So they sneak around pretending to be something they are not. Dishonesty is never a sound foundation for a relationship. Being open and honest with the ones you love and with the world around you: that’s what Pride is about. It’s a process I had to go through, and let me tell you: it is not easy. But it should be, and that, too, is what Pride is about. I wish all of you, no matter who you are, authenticity in your lives, and love and acceptance, and the openness to accept others for who they are.

While Pride is focused on the things of this earth, there are greater celestial events at play, too. As June comes to a close we reach the summer solstice. It is one of the few times each year traditionally considered a time of heightened magic, and you may do with that what you may. I like to seek the wonderful in life (and let’s look closely at that word: Wonderful ––> Wonder-full: full of wonder, that which is moving and surprising and astounding) and so I have always been open to the idea that there is more than meets the eye in life and that strange things sometimes still happen. Thanks to the tilt of our planet, there are two solstices each year, no matter where you are on this vast globe. In our annual circle each year around the sun, it is in June when the Northern Hemisphere reaches the apex of its tilt toward the sun, giving us our longest days. And of course the opposite is true in the Southern Hemisphere: it is December when the Southern Hemisphere reaches the apex of its tilt to the sun, when we here in the North are in winter. These points in the year have held great significance to people the world over for thousands of years. The Church gave these points in the year significance, too: to the June solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, it assigned the birth of John the Baptist, and to the December solstice, the birth of Jesus Christ. Both times have their heightened magic. Here at Midsummer, it is especially potent on St. John’s Eve, the night of the 23rd of June. It’s a wonder-full time to be alive.

While I don’t expect everyone to agree with my views on Pride Month and on the current state of affairs here in Florida, I do hope that if you disagree and wish to express this in the comments, that you will do so respectfully and with civility. For those of you who do agree with me (and perhaps even for those who don’t), here is a recent edition of Story Corps that is, I think, just perfect. It’s a 3 minute 30 second video called The Saint of Dry Creek. For me, this story really speaks to the heart of Pride: Being honest with yourself and those you love. “Don’t sneak around.”


Image: “Flamboyants” by Lucílio de Albuquerque. Oil on canvas, circa 1928, Museu Antônio Parreiras. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.