Doesn’t this long light feel festive? There’s something about the days beginning so early and stretching so late that if I can’t adequately describe, I can at least make it a point to witness.
Every seasonal observance is about the coming and going of light, that basic cycle, and the relevance of any such observance is entirely based on how much the light is needed. This is as down-to-earth as it gets. Revering the cycle of seasons has been human as long there have been humans, giving us an opportunity to reconnect with our realities at every turn.
This Friday, June 21, in the northern hemisphere, the tilt of the earth’s axis is most inclined toward the sun. So this is the Summer Solstice, also called Midsummer, Gathering Day, Litha, and also the Feast of St. John the Baptist. It is the bright, full moment when summer reaches its height and the sun shines the longest.
Why is the first day of summer called “Midsummer”? In some traditions, there are only two seasons, summer and winter, and the summer began back on May 1, or even as far back as the Spring Equinox. I have to admit, this long light feels more like a peak than a start!
While “the spring” and “the fall” both feel like movements to me, the Winter and Summer each seem to stand still, whether we’re sheltering in the dark, or basking in the light that we depend upon to survive. At Midsummer, we’ve arrived at what we’ve waited for. This is primal, the light is fully realized, gloriously affirming our faith in life, growth and fullness. We are here!
Our experience wisely teaches us to “make hay while the sun shines,” because this luscious long light begins to wane right after it reaches its peak. From this Saturday until the Winter Solstice in December, each day will be slightly shorter until we flow all the way back to long dark of Yule. In one fun tradition, the “Oak King,” who presides over the growth of light, at the peak of his majesty surrenders his reign to the “Holly King,” who rules the shortening days. All the more reason, then, to savor this exquisite moment, to populate it with pregnant goddesses and virile sun gods! Here we are, physical human bodies, surviving, maybe even thriving, eating outdoors, wearing big hats, dipping our feet in the ocean. We’re natural poets, the universe unfathomable, and our delight feels justifiably supernatural.
What do we do with all this light? Maybe we make like the sun and expand, stretch our limits. Maybe we’re strong and bright, calling up secret dark places, shining on the spaces that need it most. Maybe we’re bold and big. And maybe we’re still.
In Sweden, where Midsummer is a very big deal, people put the summer herb mugwort under their pillows to encourage deep dreaming. In Celtic lands, bonfires are traditional, but here in Brooklyn, we gas up our grills. In some places, they seek out majestic oaks, but every beautiful urban tree produces a magically dappled shade. Everywhere, people feast! Grilled food is highly appropriate, alongside tomatoes, new potatoes, summer squash, strawberries, anything round like the sun, and red, yellow or orange. We gather with our neighbors, outdoors, and if we’re really into it, wear green, violet and yellow. If we want to go a step further, we can burn incense of sage and lavender to bless the summer air, and if we crave a ritual, we can certainly leave treats for the faeries. The veil between worlds will be thin on Friday, and I may not be able to restrain myself from reciting a chant: May I give and receive love as peaceful as calm water, as warm as sunlight, as strong as the oak tree, as bright as fire.
May neighbors party when the light is long! Wishing a splendid summer to you and yours.