By Nicolai Astrup, Bonfire celebrating Midsummer Night

24 June

The date of the actual Summer Solstice varies each year, but it usually between the 20 and 22 June in terms of being the longest day of the year. For calendar purposes, the official date of Midsummer in the United Kingdom has long been designated as 24 June. Much like Lady Day, Michaelmas, and Christmas, Midsummer was a Quarter Day, meaning any outstanding debts from that quarter-year had to be paid. Any accounts that were not settled would face a reckoning, and names would be publicly recorded.

Midsummer would begin with collecting dew before sunrise, which was believed to cleanse the skin and preserve youth when used to wash the face. Branches would be gathered and mounted upon doorframes and over windows, and if they stayed up throughout the day it was believed they would prevent thunderstorms during Summer.

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The fires of Midsummer Eve would still be burning and so the sunrise was accompanied by flames. The day would consist of feasting, with mystery plays being performed by mummers. The play A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare is perhaps the most famous of these. There would also be folk dancing and general revelry. Herbs and plants which had been collected overnight during Midsummer Eve would be moulded into the shape of a face or a small effigy figure upon a slate or clay plate. These were known as the Midsummer Man and brought fortune or love.

The date is still noted in the British calendar. In Wales, Midsummer was known as Gŵyl Ifan or Gŵyl Ifan Ganol Haf and along with fires and dancing there would be agricultural fairs. Throughout Ireland, carnivals take place on Midsummer Day.

Nicolai Astrup, Bonfire celebrating Midsummer Night
Nicolai Astrup, Bonfire celebrating Midsummer Night, Public Domain
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