Well it’s midsummer – the time of the Summer Solstice, though with recent downpours it feels like summer hasn’t started yet.
The word solstice is derived from the Latin words sol – sun – and sistere – to stand still.
Due to the angle of the earth at this time, the sun is around longer for us and the daylight period the longest it will be all year. After this point, the length of the days slowly begin to shorten on the climb back down to winter.
Solstice celebrations are most usually held on June 21, even when this is not quite the longest day of the year, but others celebrate on Midsummer’s Day, June 24.
Some stone circles are aligned to the sunrise on Midsummer’s Day. The most well known is Stonehenge, when crowds will welcome the sun at dawn on June 21. Stone circles in the Peak District are also sometimes visited at this time to mark the longest day. This ancient celebration of the sun became absorbed into the Christian calendar as St John’s Day and celebrated as the birthday of St John the Baptist.
Traditionally St John’s Eve – Midsummer’s Eve on June 23 – was thought to be a time when the veil between this world and the next was thinnest and spirits and fairies were abroad, as in Shakespeare’s famous tale of magical goings on.
Walter Scott, who is thought to have used local places to inspire his novels such as Conisbrough Castle in ‘Ivanhoe’ and Peveril Castle in ‘Peveril of the Peak’, also wrote a ballad called The Eve of St John.
The name of the herb St John’s Wort is thought to have been named for St John the Baptist, as the flower was traditionally gathered on St John’s Day, which falls during the time it flowers.
The name may also have come from the crusading Knights of St John, who made an ointment from it to treat deep wounds gained in their battles. The plant has bright golden flowers, making it a good symbol of the sun and this midsummer time, even if it is to remind us what the sun actually looks like through the clouds.