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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Research Files: The Festival of Midsummer

Each volume of my fantasy series for middle graders revolves around a particular element and season of the traditional Celtic pagan year. The Key and the Flame, the first book, takes place in the season of summer. The element is fire. And the festival--or in pagan terms, the sabbat--is a lesser one called Midsummer.

What is Midsummer?

First of all, it isn't the middle of summer--at least, not the way we think of it today. Midsummer was celebrated at the summer solstice, which varies from year to year but falls around June 21. (The exact date depends on the earth's revolution around the sun, which takes slightly longer than 365 days.) On Midsummer, the northern hemisphere has its longest day, when the sun is at 0 degrees Cancer.

The ancient Celts called this Midsummer because in their calendar, summer began at Beltane, or around May 1. Summer ran until Lammas, or about August 1. Thus for them, June 21 was the middle of summer. Christianity, which adopted several pagan festivals, called this St. John's Day, in honor of the birth of John the Baptist.

As the height of the Season of Fire, Midsummer was a festival celebrated by honoring the sun, building bonfires, dancing, and feasting. Yellow and gold are the colors of Midsummer, a time to rejoice in the warmth of the earth and the abundance of seasonal plants and flowers. It is still a traditional folk festival celebrated in many parts of the world.

Any sabbat is a time of strong magic, and thus a good time to forge a wand--luckily for Holly. King Reynard opts to hold his tournament at Midsummer, which may be a coincidence or may be, as the Wandwright suggests, a sign that despite his hatred of magic, he has not forgotten all the rituals of magicfolk.

photo copyright Can Stock Photo Inc. / RobertMrocze

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