Midsummer, Litha and solstice: Welcome, summer!

Three older girls smile while wearing wildflower crowns

Girls pose in Midsummer crowns of flowers. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, JUNE 20: Bonfires, picnics on the beach, wreaths of wildflowers and Midsummer parties—Scandinavian-style—abound today, at the summer solstice. Across the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the “longest day of the year,” meaning that for astrological reasons, inhabitants of the north experience more hours and minutes of daylight than on any other day of the year. In 2016, summer solstice will occur at 22:34 Universal Time (UTC).

For people around the world, Midsummer has been equated with sun gods, greenery, fertility rituals and medicinal herbs for millennia. In Scandinavian countries, the longest day is one of the most beloved holidays of the year. A Scandinavian Midsummer is complete with an entire day’s worth of outdoor activities for citizens young and old: extravagant smorgasbord lunches, outdoor games for the entire community, dancing and more.

Flower crowns are all the rage, and this ancient accessory for Midsummer fetes is as easy as gathering a few favorite flowers and basic craft materials. For a tutorial on how to create a chic one, check out Lauren Conrad.com.

The Midsummer menu is as dear to Scandinavians as the Christmas goose or ham is to celebrants of the winter holiday, and fresh strawberries often take center stage in cakes, shortcakes or eaten straight out of the bowl. Other traditional foods include the season’s first potatoes, made with dill and butter; a roast; herring or other types of fish and seafood; hard-boiled eggs and summer cabbage. For recipes, visit Bon Appetit or ScandinaviaFood.com.

Strawberries and cream in cups on tray of wood filled with wildflowers, red drink bottles in background

Strawberries—usually ripe for the picking at Midsummer—have a place at almost every Swedish smorgasbord luncheon. Photo by Karlis Dambrans, courtesy of Flickr

MIDSUMMER ACROSS THE GLOBE

In Finland, the summer holiday unofficially starts with Midsummer, and so many flock to countryside cottages that city streets can seem eerily empty. Saunas, bonfires, barbecues and fishing are enjoyed by hundreds.

Two northeastern towns in Brazil have been in lengthy competition for the title of “Biggest Saint John Festival in the World,” and throughout the South American country, dishes made with corn and sweet potatoes are favored.

In Austria, a spectacular procession of ships makes its way down the Danube River, while fireworks light up the night sky above castle ruins. In Latvia, homes, livestock and even cars are decorated with leaves, tree branches, flowers and other greenery.

The largest American celebrations of Midsummer take place in New York City, Seattle, Tucson and San Francisco. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, members of the large Finnish population celebrate Juhannus with beachfront bonfires and other outdoor activities.

LITHA: A WICCAN AND PAGAN SOLSTICE CELEBRATION

Wiccans and Pagans may observe Litha, a holiday of gratitude for light and life. At Litha, adherents note the full abundance of nature at the point of mid-summer. Traditionally, fresh fruits and vegetables are the main course at shared meals, and bonfires are lit to pay homage to the full strength of the sun. In centuries past, torchlight processions were common; at Stonehenge, the heelstone marks the midsummer sunrise as viewed from the center of the stone circle.

Though harvest is not in full swing yet, many wild herbs are mature for picking and, thus, Midsummer is known as “Gathering Day” in Wales and in other various regions. Herbs, gathered most often for medicinal qualities, are gathered and dried for later use.

Interested in a modern-day take on gathering and drying healing herbs? Check out this story by Antioch College student Aubrey Hodapp, whose studies under an herbalist have helped her to deliver local, organic tea to her fellow students and much more (featured this week at FeedTheSpirit).

Joe Hill: Sing a new song on the centennial of a labor union activist

Black-and-white portrait of middle-aged man with a button-up shirt and hat askew

A portrait of Joe Hill. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, JULY 18: One hundred years after the conviction of Joe Hill—the presence of the famed union activist, songwriter and miner is as strong as ever. It was said of Hill, “it takes more than guns to kill a man.” Though he was executed at a youthful 36, the legend of Joe Hill lives far beyond his years—in movements reflecting Hill’s sense of justice.

Often portrayed as a political martyr, Joe Hill secured his place in history when he gave his life in the name of his cause. Yet any true follower of Hill would starkly recognize the request left before his execution: “Don’t waste time mourning—organize.” In other words—remember him best by putting into action what he fought for. (Interest in Hill’s story was renewed in 2011, with a new biography—read reviews from the New York Times and Newcity.)

Hill’s immortal words have since been shortened into the union catchphrase, “Don’t Mourn, Organize.”

JOE HILL:
FROM SWEDEN TO AMERICA

A Swedish immigrant, Joel Hagglund came to America with high hopes, changing his name to Joseph Hillstrom and, later, Joe Hill.

He had high hopes, but the reality of American life soon hit: Hill had trouble finding work and wound up in the lower working class in New York, then later found himself living in a hobo jungle. Hill moved with the immigrant masses, bouncing from job to job. For that reason, few details exist about the majority of Hill’s life. Only when Hill became a Wobbly—a member of the Industrial Workers of the World—did he become renowned for the music and revolutionary spirit that inspired thousands of laborers. (Wikipedia has details.)

Hill’s labor tunes urged workers to quit thinking of themselves as a dispirited crowd of immigrants—and, instead, to take heart and show confidence through singing and organized efforts to improve their lot in life. As one writer commented, during a strike, “There was in it a peculiar, intense, vital spirit, a religious spirit if you will—that I never felt before in any strike.” Nationalities and differing languages came together to sing Hill’s tunes in unison. Even if jailed for their protests, the workers would sing piercingly until their release.

Brought up in the Lutheran Church, Hill borrowed the tunes for many of his labor songs from popular hymns.

A JURY AND EXECUTION IN SALT LAKE CITY

In January of 1914, during a labor action involving Hill, a Salt Lake City shopkeeper and his son were killed in their store. There was no clear evidence of a connection, but Hill was suspected in the crime because he had suffered a gunshot wound the same night. Though evidence has since come forth that Hill had been engaged in conflict elsewhere, in a fight over his love, the Utah jury found him guilty of the murders in the store. Uproar from around the world erupted, with President Woodrow Wilson writing twice to Utah’s governor—and unions as distant as Australia protesting his conviction. Yet Hill refused to give an alibi or release the name of his sweetheart, and he was executed by a firing squad on November 19, 1915.

Interested in memorializing the mission of Joe Hill? Check out the Facebook page dedicated to Joe Hill’s Centennial Celebration, on September 5, 2015.

World celebrates summer solstice with Midsummer, St. John and Litha

Circle of people holding hands, in movement around a pole covered in leaves and vines

Summer solstice, or Midsummer, is widely celebrated around the world. Above, celebrants dance at a Midsummer event in Sweden. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, JUNE 21: It’s the longest day of the year—summer solstice—and from Sweden to Brazil to the United States, Midsummer celebrations are in full swing.

Astrologically, summer solstice occurs when the tilt of Earth’s semi-axis is most inclined toward the sun. For people around the world, Midsummer has been associated with sun gods, greenery, fertility rituals and medicinal herbs for millennia. For modern Wiccans, summer solstice is known as Litha: adherents honor the Sun God as the lord of the forests, dine on garden-fresh fruits and vegetables and burn incense of lemon, rose and wisteria. (Wicca.com has more.)

With the spread of Christianity, Midsummer became associated with the birth of St. John the Baptist—although, specifically, the saint’s day is fixed on June 24.

Bonfires on the beach, wreaths of wildflowers, outdoor dancing and relaxing in the countryside are all popular ways to spend the week of Midsummer. (Find recipes, flower-centered wreath DIYs, craft and party ideas and more on Pinterest.)

MIDSUMMER AROUND THE WORLD:
FROM SWEDEN AND FINLAND TO BRAZIL

Overhead perspective of bunch of strawberries

Strawberries are in season in many places this time of year, and are a popular Midsummer treat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Aside from Christmas, Midsummer is the most important holiday of the Swedish year. Grand outdoor lunches, speckled with seemingly endless lines of hot and cold dishes and hors d’oeuvres, are shared by family and friends. Children braid flowers and leaves into their hair, and adults take part in merry drinking. (Get the inside scoop at Visit Sweden.)

In Finland, the summer holiday unofficially starts with Midsummer, and so many flock to countryside cottages that city streets can seem eerily empty. Saunas, bonfires, barbecues and fishing are enjoyed by hundreds. (Learn more at Visit Finland.) Ancient belief is that the louder one’s behavior on Midsummer and Midsummer Eve, the more evil spirits that will be driven away.

Did you know? Centuries before the placement of the Feast of St. John the Baptist, a golden-flowered mid-summer herb—St. John’s Wort—was picked at Midsummer. It was believed that St. John’s Wort held miraculous healing powers, which were especially potent if picked on Midsummer’s Eve.

Two northeastern towns in Brazil have been in lengthy competition for the title of “Biggest Saint John Festival in the World,” and throughout the South American country, dishes made with corn and sweet potatoes are favored.

In Austria, a spectacular procession of ships makes its way down the Danube River, while fireworks light up the night sky above castle ruins. In Latvia, homes, livestock and even cars are decorated with leaves, tree branches, flowers and other greenery.

The largest American celebrations of Midsummer take place in New York City, Seattle, Tucson and San Francisco. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, members of the large Finnish population celebrate Juhannus with beachfront bonfires and other outdoor activities.