The Longest Day: Traditions for the Summer Solstice

Take a moment to savor the summer delights and craft some new traditions while learning the legends of summer.

Ancient Stargazers

Humans in prehistoric times built monuments to commemorate both the winter and the summer solstices throughout the world. Solstice comes from the Latin words sol meaning sun and sistere meaning to cause to stand still. As the days lengthen, the sun rises higher and higher until it seems to stand still in the sky. Nature religions, both ancient and modern, hold the solstices in great esteem. Modern day druids perform rituals based on old beliefs at Stonehenge each year. In the Americas, Machu Picchu and the Sun Dagger of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico show evidence of ancient astronomical design.

Legends and Lore

June has long been associated with marriages, and much midsummer lore has arisen from the greening time. The act of silently gathering nine kinds of flowers and placing them under a pillow is supposed to reveal in dreams the identity of the person to be wed. The honeymoon to follow was originally a time when the newly-weds would share foods prepared with honey so that their lives together might be sweet. In the Catholic Church, St. John is associated with Midsummer and is believed to be the protector of lovers.

Herbs and flowers harvested on Midsummer Day were believed to have magical qualities. Specially gathered fern seed was believed to make people invisible and guide them to buried treasure, and wreaths and garlands of flowers were devised to bring health to households and ward off evil.

Sir James George Frazer's Golden Bough, a popular work of early anthropology, is a collection of folk legends from the dusty corners of scholarly libraries and includes many references to old Midsummer customs throughout Europe.

New Traditions

The sweltering heat of our region's summers keep many indoors for the season, but some hardy souls gather at the river for picnics, tubing, and the traditional canoe and raft races. Crowds gather at the farmers' markets, especially on Saturday mornings, for the freshest produce of the season. Barbecueing or grilling is another summertime tradition, as are children with a little too much time on their hands. Try books from the library for ideas on how to make summer traditions special.

Books to Share With Small Ones:

When Summer Comes, by Robert Maass, perfectly captures the glistening sweetness of summer with its photographs and simple text of families sharing the delights of country fairs, fireworks, and beaches for the youngest.

Make bedtime stories for the quiet summer nights especially meaningful. Midsummer Magic: A Garland of Stories, Charms and Recipes, by Ellin Greene, is filled with traditional tales from Northern Europe celebrating the thinning of the veil between the lands of faerie and humankind that takes place at midsummer. Each story, from The Golden Bird to Count Alaric's Lady, is accompanied by a simple recipe. Try your hand at a traditional Irish Currant Cake or delight the kids with a buttery Midsummer Cake layered with berries and whipped cream.

Looking for more good reading? See the recommended titles below, and ask your librarian for more book suggestions. All the books listed below are owned by the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

On the Web

America Unhenged
http://www.roadsideamerica.com/set/OVERhenges.html
The famous Stonehenge has inspired a host of well-intentioned imitators. Carhenge in Nebraska is composed of classic vehicles, spray-painted a solemn gray.  

Stonehenge: Questions and Answers
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/stonehenge/
PBS invited viewers to go online and ask questions of a British archaelogist in conjunction with its presentation of the Stonehenge documentary.

Summer Fun for the Whole Family
http://fun.familyeducation.com/summer/seasons/32954.html
"It’s time for summer sun and fun! Plan your family’s vacation or find activities for outdoor fun right at home. Plus, find tips for selecting the right summer camp, staying safe, and preventing summer brain drain. Read more on FamilyEducation: http://fun.familyeducation.com/summer/seasons/32954.html#ixzz1v2XFlWw7"

Find Out More in the Library

The Atlas of Mysterious Places: The World's Unexplained Sacred Sites, Symbolic Landscapes, Ancient Cities, and Lost Lands.
Great photographs and descriptions of ancient sacred sites around the world.

If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge by Marc Aronson
Explores the mysterious monument of Stonehenge and reveals some of its secrets and history

Seven Wonders of Ancient Central and South America by Michael Woods
"What ... wonders did the people of early Central and South America leave behind? To find out, look among ancient temples and tombs, the villages of peasant farmers, and abandoned cities taken over by jungle growth. You re about to begin your search for the seven wonders of Ancient Central and South America!"

Stonehenge Revealed by David Souden
This recent book, produced in cooperation with Stonehenge's caretaker, English Heritage, is filled with lush photographs and chapters discussing Stonehenge's place in prehistory, the people who created it, and its possible uses as a ritual center.

Summer Solstice 2: A Windham Hill Collection.
Musical warmth from around the world-- Hawaii, Africa, New Orleans, and more.

Especially For Children

Arrow to the Sun by Gerald McDermott
An adaptation of the Pueblo Indian myth which explains how the spirit of the Lord of the Sun was brought to the world of men. Winner of the Caldecott Medal.

Done in the Sun: Solar Projects For Children by  Anne Hillerman
An introduction to the sun as a renewable energy source, demonstrating through simple experiments and craft projects how the sun's light and heat can be used to help us in our everyday lives.

The Longest Day: Celebrating the Summer Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer
"With lyrical prose and vibrant illustrations, The Longest Day takes us on a journey through the history and science behind the summer solstice, with a focus on summer celebrations from various cultures around the world. Teachers and students alike will treasure the varied and accessible knowledge, and activities in the back let everyone in on the festivities."

William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream retold by Bruce Coville
"Nearly every child will encounter the plays of William Shakespeare, and this adaptation provides the foreknowledge that will make reading one of his best-loved plays much more rewarding. The delightful tale of how fairies magically transform the fate of two young couples has been carefully adapted by bestselling author Bruce Coville to retain the flavor and drama of the original."