There are not so many spots in Europe where really old, pre-Christian traditions are still alive, and our Midsummer madness is one of them. Of course, it has changed over the centuries but somehow it has managed fit into the modern world as well.
The celebration of Midsummer's Eve comes from ancient times as a festival of the summer solstice. The dates of real summer solstice vary year by year, so here it has blended witch Christian St. John's Day which is set on 24th June. Thus here we do celebrate Midsummer's night from 23rd to 24th June every year.
Midsummer traditions and celebrations are pre-Christian in origin, linked mostly with fire and water..Here it has nothing to do with Neopagans and all that - for us it's old, stable tradition which has survived repressions from Church and Soviets at different times.
Next thing - decorating your home. Again, bringing all the wildflowers home for the night is some cleansing process, getting you and your home ready for the night.
Again, each region might have their own favourite plants, but for me it's Acorus calamus and Galium verum. Then the oak branches, red and white clover and Centaurea cyanus. And ferns, a lot of ferns*. The rest is by choice, as one of our folk songs say: any plant is good picked on Midsummer Eve.
In old days when our ancestors lived in farms, the whole property needed some decoration as well. To be cleansed, to be protected. From witches, let' s say. From bad eye, from jealous and nasty people. For the latest the best protection is Sorbus aucuparia. Plant one against you nasty neighbours, make your door frame out of this wood or at least put one piece right down on the doorstep so any bad vibes will be not entering your home.
If you are farmer or at least a pet owner, you must protect them as well. Old days each farm animal got a wreath to protect them against bad eye an illnesses. Circular form of a wreath duplicate the form of a Sun and all the power it has. Now is time for you.
First thing is a bath. Or sauna or whatever it's called. Old days it was a little house a bit away from the main house, with a lot of stones and a proper stove in it. It was heated for several hours before bathing until stones went hot. Then it was time to pick up the birch (or even better - as many herbs as you picked up just right before) besom and a good time to get clean - inside and outside.
Then clean clothes, the best you had (or these days it's the right night to wear your national costume if you have one)and wreath for yourself. Midsummer's night is the only night when everybody - not only young girls - must wear the wreath. Not only for decoration, but mostly to protect us from all the bad energies released for the night and floating around.
Woman wear flowers, men - oak leaf wreath (oak is the strongest tree here,representing all the power, energy and fertility). It was always about wildflowers, but in 19th century to be more posh, girls started to wear also the garden flowers in the wreath, but now again it is more about wildflowers. Fashion trends even in this department! LOL
When all is ready, it must be late so time to set up for the night. Food and fire. Food as well has symbolic meanings. Beer and round homemade cheese. Nothing fancy like French cheese, but simple roll out of curd. And then on top all the little pies with different fillings and all the BBQ stuff nowadays. And then there is the fire to be lit at the sunset.
And now with all the food and beer is time for the feast around the fire. All night long as fire must be kept alive thus you must look after it. We do also believe that a person who goes to sleep that night, will be quite sleepy and lazy all the next year so better keep up!
Singing and dancing.. we do have plenty of folk songs. About 1.5 millions collected. But majority knows about 300, and for the lazy ones who does not sing at all (I do not want to spoil the feast!) the bare minimum is about 50.
Of course, over the centuries it has changed a bit. While wreath and wildflowers are the some, only the best of us know how to make a homemade beer ourselves, so it has been replaced with supermarket stuff. If you are living in six storey apartment block, putting a rowan tree on top of your chimney might end in hospital (or at least in police) so you just decorate your car before hitting the road out to country. You must be lucky anyway as all the road police here is out because on the overall drunk driving.
So the night might be like this one
or like this one last night in the centre of city when about 60,000 people gets together for BBQ and 15 different sorts of beer
So all in all, it is just a public holiday here, not much different from any BBQ night out in the country around the world, but... It's still the magic of MIDSUMMER NIGHT.
PS. *As this is G-rated blog I can't tell about all our summer solstice traditions, for example, about searching for the magic blossom of the fern. I will only mention the fact that association for family planning and sexual health here is named "Blossom of the fern" LOL