Our monthly feature seeks to offer open-minded, clarifying, and meaningful responses to readers’ questions about spirituality. Send your questions to The Resident.
Q: What are some of the religious festivals associated with midsummer’s day?
I’ve frequently commented on the association between celestial events and religious or spiritual observances. The summer solstice occurs in the northern hemisphere on or about June 21, marking the day/time when the earth’s north pole is most closely oriented toward the sun.
Though this is the beginning of astronomical summer, it is often called “midsummer’s day” because we’ve already been enjoying some weeks of (mostly!) warm, clear weather. Spring planting is done, and now we depend on the rain and the sun to do their work. Our own bodies will be conscious of the heat, and a certain lassitude may overtake us. Alternating sunshine and cool water help restore and refresh us in this season.
In the Christian calendar, we’re well into “ordinary time” – the period between either Pentecost or Trinity Sunday, depending on how you count – and the Sundays approaching Advent later on in autumn. Christian observances in this time are occasional and sporadic, mostly associated with specific saints. St Anthony, St John (the Baptist), and St Peter are particularly celebrated here in Portugal in mid to late June.
Midsummer observances in Northern Europe, e.g. Jāņi in Latvia or Midsommar in Sweden, most likely precede Christian festivals by many centuries, though some have been co-opted into the Christian cycle. In addition, contemporary pagans have endeavoured to recover ancient traditions of herb-gathering, fire lighting, of food, ritual and dance, associated with health and fertility and the natural balance that, in this time, favours light over darkness.
Sound spiritual practice always helps us be aware of the middle place that we occupy, between seasons past and seasons to come; of the earth below us and the heavens overhead.
Here in the Algarve, we have the opportunity to put our feet in the sand on the seashore at sunset, to listen to the wind and the birds and the waves, to wait for the temperature to drop and the stars to appear overhead. Better still if you have a companion or some companions to do this with. Now, when we are all most in need of healing and the recovery of our communities, is a time to celebrate the simple fact that we are alive. Midsummer blessings to all!
The Rev. Reid Hamilton
St Vincent’s Church