Summer Solstice is also known as: Litha (Anglo Saxon) , Alban Hefin (Welsh) Midsummer (Northern Europe), St John’s Day (Christian).
Usually celebrated around 20th – 23rd June
What is Summer Solstice
The Moon at Summer Solstice
Giants and dragons were also closely associated with midsummer festivities throughout the ages; in many places rituals still take place involving the carrying of effigies of giants or dragons through the streets – the hobby horse is also a predominant feature.
Folk-lore Customs and Traditions
- Tansy’s Golowan – the Cornish name for Midsummer bonfire ceremonies, which prior to the late 19th century were widespread in Cornwall being most popular in the Penwith area and in particular in Penzance and Newlyn. The celebrations centred around the lighting of bonfires and associated rituals – societies across Cornwall on this date lit bonfires in a giant chain reaching from Kithill on the Devon Border, to Chapel Carn Brea near Land’s End. These ancient customs have been revived since 1991 with the Golowan festival in Penzance and its central event ‘Mazey Day’ where effigies of giant ships and other mystical creatures including the ‘Obby Oss’ are paraded through the streets. http://www.midsummerwatch.co.uk/history/
- Midsummer Watch – taking place in Chester this is a tradition that still continues, despite a couple of periods of interruption (namely two wars). The outstanding feature of the parade is that it is whole families of giants; father, mother and two daughters who are accompanied by fantastic giant Beasts including the Unicorn, the Elephant, the Camel and the Dragon. Originally the Dragon was beaten by six naked boys, but this practice was banned in the late 16th century. http://www.midsummerwatch.co.uk/history/
- Wreaths and head-dresses – Five plants have been commonly known in rural folklore to possess special magical powers at this time: Rue, Roses, St. John’s Wort, Vervain and Trefoil, being used in many different ways:- for protection and good luck in the forthcoming months they would be incorporated into the flower head-dresses or wreaths that could be brought into the house and hung above doorways, windows or chimneys – they would also be thrown into the bonfire for the same reason or to honour the Sun, which was symbolised by the fire itself. St. John’s Wort is still used today as a herbal treatment for depression.
- Setting the Watch – in England it was traditional for rural villagers to build a large bonfire on Midsummers Eve as it was well known that the fire and smoke would purify and keep evil spirits at bay. Farmers also set a fire (or fires) on their land for the same purpose and others would form a ‘marching watch’ walking the boundaries of their area with lit torches and lanterns to protect and ward them.
- Rolling Wheels – the beginning of this tradition is lost in antiquity but there is evidence of it continuing right into the 20thC – a large cartwheel swathed in straw would be ignited and ‘guided’ with sticks as it rolled down-hill toward a stream; if it reached the stream then good-fortune would fall upon the community, if it didn’t ….. well?