April 25, 2017

#05-035: Midsummer's Day

color etching of people in clothes like those of the pilgrims, dancing around a bonfire
A Midsummer bonfire in 1893

Note: A pale counterpart to the better-known December solstice, the magic of this date was admirably captured by no less than William Shakespeare.

Get Ready: Most of us have holidays around the December solstice; do you recognize the June solstice in any particular way?

Another June occurrence predates fathers, grads, and in fact even life on earth!

I'm speaking, of course, about what we in the northern hemisphere observe as the summer solstice, around June 21. The actual astronomical event was certainly happening before the first single-celled creatures came into being, though the celebrations of that event had to wait until humans showed up.

Nevertheless, evidence of solstice celebrations is very old indeed. Newgrange, a burial mound in Ireland, dates back to Neolithic times over 5000 years ago. It is constructed in such a way that the rising sun shines into a tunnel only at Midsummer. The megaliths at Stonehenge, placed not too long after the construction of the Irish site, seem also to have Midsummer alignments.

Ancient practices appear to have survived for millennia, and are being revived today. Some involve the building of bonfires, emulating the sun's ferocity at that time of year. Another, more charming, was practiced (and condemned by the church) as late as the 13th century. In this innocent recreation, boys would roll a wheel down a hill.

What's wrong with that, you ask? The wheel's descent imitated the sun--at that time of year perceived to be at its zenith--which thereafter descended toward the south again. The game thus reflected sun-worship, an aspect of pagan practices--which the church frowned on.

The church, which co-opted the winter solstice and transformed it into Christmas, likewise took the feast of Saint John the Baptist and attached it to summer solstice celebrations. John was a relative of Jesus--their mothers were cousins--and the Bible says he was about six months older than his more famous relative. Thus, after the church set the date of Christmas, they placed John's feast six months earlier.

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of Midsummer tomfoolery is Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, in which fairies frolic and lovers get lost in the woods. The Bard's original audiences would have been well aware of the association between fairies, love, and the solstice, and he was not above exploiting this connection.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midsummer

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. burial mound
  2. co-opted
  3. emulating
  4. exploiting
  5. ferocity
  6. frolic
  7. likewise
  8. predates
  9. the Bard
  10. zenith

  1. imitating; copying
  2. the highest point
  3. took as their own
  4. play in a lighthearted way
  5. a pile of earth used as a tomb
  6. a nickname for Shakespeare
  7. taking advantage of
  8. fierceness; savageness
  9. comes before
  10. in the same way

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 25, 2017

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. e; 2. c; 3. a; 4. g; 5. h; 6. d; 7. j; 8. i; 9. f; 10. b