Summer Solstice

I don’t know about you, but as summer gets underway and the days become longer, I’m thrilled with the extra daylight. Awaking at 5:30 a.m. to a bright, cheerful sun and birdsong is a wonderful way to tempt me out of bed. And sitting at the kitchen table with a freshly brewed cup of coffee is so much more invigorating when watching the sun peek over the horizon. Six months ago I was trying to pull myself out of bed and make my way through a dark house as outside the world seemed to be cocooned in nothing more than the cold and inky darkness.  Let’s hear it for the summertime tilt of the Earth’s axis!

While the kids have been busy arguing their “ridiculous” bedtimes (“It can’t be 9:00 yet! It’s still light outside!”), we’ve been trying to soak in as much outdoor activity as possible.  June 21 is fast approaching, which marks the summer solstice – the longest day of sunlight of the year. In a land of frozen lakes and innumerable snow days for what seems like half of the year, this is an event which really ought to be celebrated.

First, allow me to throw a little Latin your way. The word solstice is derived from sol, meaning sun, and sistere, which means to stand still. Hmm. The day the sun stands still. No wonder this day has been the impetus for many a cultural holiday, festival and ritual. It’s a magical time of year, when the earth seems to be alive and abuzz with nature. It’s other moniker, midsummer, has inspired the likes of Shakespeare and other poets. In some European countries, the importance of the summer solstice, or midsummer, is topped only by Christmas and New Year’s. Customs and rituals predate Christianity in their origins. Early Europeans believed that certain midsummer plants, such as Calendula and St. John’s Wort, had miraculous healing powers if picked on the night of Midsummer. No doubt the woods and meadows were busy with people scurrying around in the late evening sun searching for their cure-alls!

During a time when artificial light was a bit more complicated than flicking a light switch, it’s easy to understand why ancient peoples would have reveled in days of longer daylight. And while we now have everything from flashlights to floodlights, and everything in between, to extend our working and playing hours well into the nighttime, pausing to have some fun on the longest day of sunlight is a good enough reason to celebrate in my book!

When I think of the summer solstice, I remember stories of ancient traditions and rituals. Immediately, I picture woodland sprites and fairies, flitting around like lightning bugs, or young maidens with crowns of woven flowers nestled atop long, curly locks of hair, dancing around a bonfire. We’re a bit in short supply of both of those nowadays. But a summer solstice party can take many different directions. However, one common theme should resonate for all: outdoors! So grab your lawn chairs, party tents, outdoor games, or whatever keeps the celebration going in your neck of the woods. The following are some different ideas for celebrating the summer solstice.

Bonfire. Simple, kid-friendly, and low-stress. In ancient times, bonfires were lit on Midsummer to protect against evil spirits believed to roam freely on Midsummer. Combat potential evil spirits by inviting friends or neighbors to bring a potluck dish for an outdoor picnic-style supper. Have s’mores ingredients on hand for guests to enjoy around the fire.

Woodland Retreat. Are you fortunate to have some wooded land, preferably with a clearing? Invite guests to partake in a medieval evening of revelry. In addition to a bonfire, consider spit-roasting a pig. Put the handymen to work hanging strings of white lights and white paper lanterns to illuminate the woodland setting even after the sun has finally gone to bed. If you’re the costume party type, invite guests to break out their Renaissance wear. This just might require some honey mead, however!

Beach Bash. Entertainment is easy at the beach. Sand volleyball, swimming, Frisbee… no one has an excuse not to have fun by the water’s edge! Fill some galvanized tubs with ice and bottled beverages and get ready for a lengthy day of summer fun. Appoint a grill master or two to be in charge of burgers and brats, and don’t forget sparklers for the kids later.

Neighborhood Shindig. The nice thing about neighborhood parties is that it’s a get-together without really leaving home. Get permission from your city to block off your circle or city street. Your summer solstice party will provide the perfect opportunity for the kids to run from yard to yard, playing with one another in the long hours of sunshine, and you can kick back with your neighborhood pals and enjoy some good food and fun conversation. The plus side to this plan is that, should you forget something, no need to worry! A short walk to your kitchen sure beats driving into town from the lake to pick up forgotten charcoal briquettes or plastic forks!

Food and Wine Party. There’s nothing wrong with sending the kids off for an overnight with friends or family while you enjoy some adult time. And what better night to invite some couples over for an evening of good food and fine wine? Put an earthy spin on the event’s menu. Focus on nature’s bounty, opting for ingredients such as honey, nuts, berries, and edible wild plants and flowers.

Whether you forage in the woods for healing plants and flowers, pile some more logs to set the bonfire ablaze, or simply kick back with a lawn chair and a Sangria in the backyard, I wish you a magical Summer Solstice! Soak it in – winter will be on its way!

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