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Folk Traditions

The Two Kings | Fire and Water | Midsummer Day
Country Summer Traditions | Fairies | Midsummer Games
John Barleycorn | The Six Days of Midsummer

Fire and Water

All Midsummer customs are about the sun, symbolized by fire and light -- and about water, which brings life to the crops. Bonfires are lit on St. Audrey's Day, June 23rd, to give strength to the sun to burn strong in its battle with darkness. Light is caught and doubled with mirrors or reflective ornaments: fire is sent heavenward in fireworks and by torchlight in night revels. Living fire is carried everywhere it's dark.

Capturing lively bonfire light in lanterns, they dance off into the dark with a Morris team to mark out the boundaries of the town, stopping for a drink and a dance at each important corner. In the north, they jump through the embers of the bonfires at midnight: some couples are married by the light of the bonfire. Then they rush down to some running water to wash their former lives away, sometimes capturing bad spirits in a bottle to toss them as far out in the water as possible.

It's in the summer, when water is more precious, that wells are dressed with garlands of flowers and candles, blessed by parish clergy and local wisewomen to appease the spirits. Holy wells and fairy well are given special attention. St. John the Baptist himself appears looking like a wild Jack o'the Green, baptising everybody in a hundred fun ways. There are water fights and pageants on the water, swimming competitions, races, and boating events. Sometimes just gliding on the water watching the reflected firelight is enough.

"Sumer is icumen in,
Lude sing cuckoo!"

Next: Midsummer Day


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