Tonight is marked as Midsummer Night's Eve, even though for those of us in the Northern hemisphere summer has only just started. I wondered for a long time why it was called this and why Shakespeare set his play on this night that was clearly not in the middle of summer.
The origin of the naming of this as midsummer comes from Old English and we need to acknowledge that the old Anglo-Saxon calendar had only two seasons, summer and winter.
Dividing the year in half for a “Midsummer’s Day” would have put the day near the middle of summer in June. It probably wasn’t an exact day marked universally. Summer started in mid-April in the old Icelandic calendar and on the Anglo-Saxon calendar, it was marked as whenever the full moon appeared.
The marking of midsummer may have varied but the celebration of Saint John's Eve on this day was set by the church. Saint John is the patron saint of beekeepers.
This is a time when after many spring flowers and clover have bloomed, the hives are full of honey. One name given to this month's full moon was the Mead Moon because much of that honey was fermented to make the honey wine called mead.
This is also one of the origin stories for the word "honeymoon" and so it became known as a time for lovers.
That is why Shakespeare set his play A Midsummer Night's Dream on this night.The night also gained a reputation as a time of magic when the fairy kingdom would play pranks on people.
The tale is of two young couples who wander into a magical forest outside Athens full of fairies who play with the lovers' emotions. "The course of true love never did run smooth," wrote Shakespeare, but being a comedy, things do eventually work out for the lovers.
An old Swedish proverb says, "Midsummer Night is not long but it sets many cradles rocking.
cross-posted from Weekends in Paradelle