The longest day of the year, the summer solstice, occurs every year between June 20-22. On mass-market calendars the solstice is marked as being on June 21. Astrologically speaking, the solstice occurs when the Sun is over the Tropic of Cancer, which this year did actually happen on June 21st (for those on the East Coast, anyway, and those time zones close to it).
Catholic Christians celebrate midsummer at St. John the Baptist’s Day on June 24. In ancient Rome, Midsummer was celebrated as Litha or Vestalia, and in ancient India it was the main festival of the year. In Wales, midsummer is Gathering Day; for the Anglo-Saxons, Alban Heflin; in ancient Gaul, the Feast of Epona; in Greece, All Couple’s Day; and in Scotland, Feill-Sheathain.
The main focus of this Sabbat is the Sun, and fire. It relates agriculturally in that it is the sign that after this day, daylight will gradually begin to shorten as autumn grows closer. Also, Midsummer in Wiccan tradition is the time when the Goddess and the earth are heavy with pregnancy–the Goddess pregnant with the God, and the earth pregnant with the crops planted earlier. Fertility rites have some place at the Midsummer festivities, to ensure further healthy growth, but the main focus is on the Sun and the Sun God, celebrating the peak of the Sun’s power and the the approaching fatherhood of the Sun God. Ironically, in America we celebrate Father’s Day on the third Sunday of June–which falls close to or on Midsummer– which I don’t think was intentionally done by those who created the holiday, but the connection is there.
Ways to celebrate:
- Make a protective amulet or a God’s Eye: some people make amulets for protection in the week before the solstice, and the amulets are then empowered by the Midsummer fires. The amulet can be made from cinnamon sticks tied over the door of your home, or rue, rowan, and basil tied together in a gold or white cloth to be carried in your pocket. God’s Eyes (sun amulets originating in South America) can be used as protective talismans as well.
- Light a balefire: A Celtic tradition, this may be more difficult if you live in a city, but light a balefire to be kept burning from sunset the night before Midsummer until sunset the next day. The balefire would then be the center of the festivities held around it.
- Gather herbs: Midsummer is the time when most herbs are mature enough to pick. Herbs such as vervain, mistletoe, and lavender can be gathered and dried to keep in storage for winter use.
- burn lavender incense: an old Roman tradition, burning lavender as incense on Midsummer honor the deities as parents-to-be.
- Gather wood and create a wand or stave. The Teutons practiced this at Midsummer when they gathered ash sticks to carve into wands and staves.
- Light candles–those who can’t make a balefire, or who can’t attend a ceremony, could light a candle or two for Midsummer.
- Wake up early to see the rising sun.
*Please remember to practice common sense and safe practices when burning or lighting anything, especially in enclosed spaces.
**For the herbalism suggestions, unless you are already practiced in herbalism and in recognizing plants, it is highly recommended that you use a good book to identify plants, and do not ingest or burn any plant unless you are familiar with the plant and its properties.