Trailer from one of the many versions of Shakespeare’s play – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1999
It doesn’t seem correct that today could be Midsummer Night’s Eve here in Paradelle (Northern hemisphere) since summer just started yesterday. But the origin of this term comes from Old English and we need to remember that the old Anglo-Saxon calendar had only two seasons: summer and winter.
Dividing the year in half and giving 6 months to summer – April through September – would put mid-summer near the middle of our June and close to the solstice. It seems to have been a date that varied and the solstice (which could be marked precisely even by people of that time) might have been an easy way to remember and mark the date.
Summer started in mid-April in the old Icelandic calendar and on the Anglo-Saxon calendar, it was marked as whenever the full moon appeared.
The marking of a Midsummer Day may have varied but when Christianity enters, the celebration of Saint John’s Eve on a particular day was set by the church.
Midsummer may simply have been more of a period of time centered upon the summer solstice, between June 21 and June 24.
European midsummer-related holidays, traditions, and celebrations are pre-Christian in origin. They are particularly important in Northern Europe – Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania – but are also found in Germany, Ireland, parts of Britain (Cornwall especially), France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Ukraine, other parts of Europe. It is not as popularly celebrated in Canada, the United States and Puerto Rico.
It is marked in the Southern Hemisphere (mostly in Brazil, Argentina and Australia) as an imported European celebration that marks Midwinter.
For Americans, it is a time when after many spring flowers and clover have bloomed, the hives are full of honey. Saint John was the patron saint of beekeepers. One name given to this month’s full moon was the Mead Moon because much of that honey was fermented to make the honey wine called mead.
This time is also connected to the origin stories for the word “honeymoon” and is often associated with lovers and marriages. An old Swedish proverb says, “Midsummer Night is not long but it sets many cradles rocking.
If you have a fairy housein your backyard or come across one in the woods, this could be a good night to spot its occupants. It might also be a night to be wary of the tricks those spirits may be apt to try on humans tonight.
William Shakespeare used these associations in his play A Midsummer Night’s Dream which is set on this night which he portrays as one full of magic when the fairy kingdom would play pranks on people. In the play, two young couples wander into a forest outside Athens that is full of fairies who amuse themselves by playing with the human lovers’ emotions. Although “The course of true love never did run smooth,” in his comedy, things do eventually work out for the lovers and the fairies..