Celebrating Litha: The Summer Solstice
This coming Tuesday, 21st June, marks Litha or Midsummer in the Northern Hemisphere. The ancient festival celebrates the longest day and shortest night as the Earth tilts closest to the sun and the evenings seem endless here in Scotland. The Summer Solstice marks the beginning of astronomical Summer, and - as at all these transition points - certainly feels like a fresh start to me. This time of year in the Celtic Wheel traditionally celebrates light, sun, growth, fire, fertility, warmth and abundance.
For me, marking such ancient celebrations acts as an antidote to the hustle and bustle of everyday life, a reminder of the bigger picture, the rhythm of the seasons and forces larger than ourselves. Here are five ways that I’ll be celebrating – I hope you join me.
Say it with flowers
Midsummer is traditionally a time of wearing and decorating with flowers so it’s the ideal excuse to get gathering and fill your house with simple jam jar posies of wildflowers. Blooms are abundant everywhere at the moment, from hedgerow to woodland, garden to roadside. Find your local grower if you can and support sustainable flowers this British Flowers Week. I spent the most wonderful afternoon today at Edinburgh’s Granton Castle Walled Garden with Ochre Botanical Studios making tiny buttonhole arrangements. You can see the results on my Instagram!
Traditionally it was believed that ‘witches were abroad’ at this time of year, so people would light fires to ward off evil creatures and celebrate the sun. If you managed to stay awake all night in the middle of a stone circle, you might see the “Fae” or faeries, and be blessed with good luck the year round. If you can’t find these near you (!) candles are an easy way to introduce Litha’s symbolism. My year-round favourite is Can to Candle’s Fireside, made with soy wax and poured just outside Edinburgh.
Enjoy ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
I remember the first time I read Shakespeare’s comedy in the Summer term of school when I was around 12, being instantly captivated by its magic and wit, and I always think of it at this time of year. These days I find myself teaching the play every Summer term (I’m an English teacher by day) and reliving its mischief and mysticism. Seek out a performance near you, or watch the fab Michelle Pfeiffer/ Rupert Everett film version. I challenge you not to want to elope to the woods after watching it.
Eat Al Fresco
Somehow, food eaten outdoors seems to taste better. Maybe it’s because we seldom have the opportunity with our climate, but a picnic lunch or mezze supper is pure indulgence at this time of year (apparently it’s International Picnic Day today too). There’s no better treat to mark Midsummer than a delicious homemade feast outdoors. Fill an old basket with tupperware and a flask: keep it simple with seasonal salads and fresh berries – guaranteed crowd pleasers.
The Celts would also celebrate Litha with the other sort of gathering. Foraging was essential at this time, especially herbs, which Celts were said to forage for their magical properties. Elderflower is pretty magical to me, while wild roses are abundant at this time of year. I’m hoping to experiment by collecting and drying out rose petals to make my own rosewater this year - do you have any tips? I’ll be sure to report back!