The 24th June is both Midsummer’s Eve and the Feast of Saint John the Baptist. Although it is not the longest day of the year ( this is the 21st June), the sun reaches its highest point at this time and there were many ancient pagan traditions associated with this day, long before the worldwide influence of Christianity.
The Feast of Saint John is celebrated all over world by Christians with fires, fireworks and big processions. It is rare for a Saint to be so widely celebrated, but John the Baptist was a powerful preacher in his own right long before Jesus began his own ministry and he had many followers in distant lands. His preaching was fiery, calling for repentance for the forgiveness of sins and for people to live a righteous life no matter what their profession. He baptised those who repented and was the first person to identify Jesus as the son of God at his baptism when Jesus was thirty:
“I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptise with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptises with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:32-34).
What makes this more interesting is that Jesus and John were connected before they were even born, but did not meet until Jesus’s baptism I believe. They had much in common: John was conceived miraculously to elderly parents and was born six months before Jesus; his mother Elizabeth and Mary were also related in some way and both were visited by the Angel Gabriel who told them of the son they would bear.
So how does this relate to how we can observe Saint John’s today? I like this quote from All Year Round:
“At a time when nature rushes on, relentlessly pursuing her goals, fruiting and seeding, we are challenged by St John to pause, reassess our intentions and the direction of our life. He asks us to straighten and balance the landscape of our soul….”
Since ancient times, bonfires have traditionally been built in the night of the 23rd to encourage the sun to shine and ripen the crops and also to ward off evil spirits. Fire continues to be part of the Midsummer/St John’s celebrations to this day in many shapes and forms.
In our Steiner ( Waldorf) school we celebrate St John’s with circle dancing, feasting and the children, teachers – and parents if they wish – jump over a little fire. Everyone is dressed in fiery colours of red, orange and yellow.
Jumping over fire is associated with cleansing and renewing our intentions to live a righteous, purposeful life. Here again a quote from “All Year Round”:
” The most noble quality of Fire is it’s ability to transform substance. In the alchemy of the soul, there is always the possibility that the dross in our lives may be changed into something more precious. By ‘burning up’ what is unfruitful within us, we gain the strength to rise above ourselves, to jump over our own inner St John’s Fire”
Now apart from these lively celebrations, the evening of the 24th June is a special night for fairy folk! I have always felt there is magic in the air on Midsummer’s night (and not just because it’s my birthday!…) – think A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare and the poem below:
Midsummer by Elizabeth Gould
The sun goes down,
The stars peep out,
And long slim shadows
In velvet shoes
The quiet dark
Comes stepping soft
O’er wood and park.
And now the world
Is fast asleep;
And fays and elves
Their revels keep.
They fly on the backs of the grey-winged moths,
They skim on the dragon-flies green and gold.
On shimmering dew-wet grass they alight,
Tiny petal-skirts whirl, gauzy wings unfold.
The fairies are dancing beneath the moon.
Hush! See the shimmer of their twinkling shoon!
My daughters have created many fairy feasts, built fairy dance floors and little shelters in corners of the garden over the years and on the morning after Midsummer’s Eve, without fail, they have been rewarded with scatterings of fairy dust and little crystals, rose petals and a feeling that a fairy ball has occurred. Young children need wonder and magic in their lives. These are nourishing times for them and for us.
Set up time. We even added solar lighting this year so the fairies knew where to go!
Fairy dance floors in silver and gold 🙂
Fairy feast of tiny rose petal sandwiches and fruits and seeds laid on by the girls.
And in the morning, trails of fairy dust and a thank you from the fairies.
My children find it difficult to fall asleep on Midsummer’s Eve (just like at Christmas and birthdays!) Everything is so magical and alive and it’s light until late.
Two books that we love that reflect the mood of the midsummer night fairy festival are:
Little Fairy can’t sleep by Daniela Drescher – beautifully illustrated as you can see.
The Flowers’ Festival by Elsa Beskow – a long time favourite summer story.
And as mentioned in my previous post, we also celebrated our Strawberry Fayre in the Early Years Department of our school on the 24th June this year. Here are a few glimpses of this lovely summery festival.
I also said I would share my midsummer decorations/nature table in my last post so here they are:.
Gosh! This is a rather long post…hope you are still with me!
Last but not least I also had a little birthday celebration in the afternoon with my family of four in a local garden that we love visiting in June because it is full of the most wonderful fragrant roses and plenty of magic too.
Oh, I do love June: everything in nature is blooming and so abundant and full of vitality; it is a time full of promise and outdoors fun.
And before we leave June, I will leave you with a song my daughter H sings at school:
“June, lovely June,
Now beautifies the ground
The sound of the cuckoos
In the green woods resound”