Isolation diary: Enjoying the summer solstice

Slightly fuzzy photo – we were right at the back

Today is the longest day – it’s downhill all the way from now on…

I’ve often wondered why we don’t have a major festival to celebrate summer. The ancient pagan rituals around the longest day are only practised by a tiny minority, and for most of us it passes as just another day.

In contrast, we all celebrate mid-Winter at Christmas with gifts, rich food and cosy family gatherings, possibly around a fire,  whether or not we observe it as a Christian festival.  Similarly we mark Spring at Easter with symbols of new life – eggs, flowers and bunnies.  These events both have an interesting history, with pagan origins, overlaid with Christian symbolism, and now adopted as secular festivals for all to enjoy, institutionalised through Bank Holidays. The Winter Festival, around the winter solstice, extends into Hogmanay, and the Spring Festival, around the spring equinox, is preceded by Carnival in many parts of the world.

The Autumn celebrations are more complex but we can see the echoes of ancient fire festivals to ward off evil at Hallowe’en and on Nov 5th. I’m always struck by the way Hallowe’en in the US is more of a harvest celebration than the creepier intimations of death associated with All Saint’s Eve, which we honour in the UK.

These days we don’t have a single focal point for the middle of summer, although many other European countries do. In the past we did, and indeed 24th June is still, somewhat puzzlingly, referred to as Midsummer Day. There are references to it in the title of Shakespeare’s play, even though that was, apparently, first performed on New Year’s Day.

In the 4th century AD the church designated June 24th as the festival to celebrate the birth of St John the Baptist, because Luke’s Gospel records that he was born 6 months before Jesus. The day before, St John’s Eve, used to be marked in England with feasting, bonfires and some mischief making – again based on seasonal pre-Christian rituals. Similar celebrations still happen in many other countries, markedly so in Spain, Portugal and Sweden.

And in the UK? – well, we seem to have forgotten about St John’s Eve and Midsummer Day, although we do have Wimbledon. But not this year.



Please note

We have been in full self-isolation since 16th March to protect my husband whose immune system is compromised.

If you are in self-isolation then join the Lib Dems in self-isolation Facebook group.

You can find my previous Isolation diaries here.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Johannistag – St. John’s Eve – is still quite big in Germany too. It features prominently in Wagner’s comic opera “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” and the revelries play a prominent role.

  • I think 24th is called Midsummer rather than 21st because it used to be a quarter day when, for instance, rents were due.

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