Although Midsummer Day occurs at the summer solstice, or what we think of as the beginning of summer, to the farmer it is the midpoint of the growing season, halfway between planting and harvesting, and an occasion for celebration.
The most common other names for this holiday are the Summer Solstice or Midsummer, and it celebrates the arrival of Summer, when the hours of daylight are longest. The Sun is now at the highest point before beginning its slide into darkness.
Celebrating Midsummer Day
Although it’s also the feast day of St. John the Baptist, it features pagan traditions such as bonfires, fire walking, and a carnival atmosphere, all of which took place on Midsummer Eve. Certainly, it’s a night of magic and soothsaying as well, for as Washington Irving said, this is a time “when it is well known all kinds of ghosts, goblins, and fairies become visible and walk abroad.” After Midsummer Day, the days shorten.
In Sweden and Norway at the Solstice, people made wheels of fortune. Some of the wheels were wrapped in straw, set on fire, and rolled down hill. Other wheels were decorated and kept. These were used in two ways: One, the wheel was rolled away from a person to take away misfortunes; two, it was rolled toward a person to bring all kinds of good fortune.
Variations on the Midsummer celebrations:
People around the world have observed spiritual and religious seasonal days of celebration during the month of June. Most have been religious holy days which are linked in some way to the summer solstice.
- Scottish Pecti-Witans celebrate Feill-Sheathain on July 5th.
- In the Italian tradition of Aridian Strega, this Sabbat (Strega Witches call them Treguendas rather than Sabbats) is known as Summer Fest – La Festa dell’Estate.
- Scandinavians celebrate this holiday at a later date and call it Thing-Tide.
- In England, June 21st is “The Day of Cerridwen and Her Cauldron”.
- In Ireland, this day is dedicated to the faery goddess Aine of Knockaine.
- June 21st is “The Day of the Green Man” in Northern Europe.
In Lithuanian tradition, the dew on Midsummer Day was said to make young girls beautiful and old people look younger. It was also thought that walking barefoot in the dew would keep one’s skin from getting chapped.
It was customary to honor all men named John on this day by fixing wreaths of oak leaves around their doors. This is usually done in secret, and John must guess who did it or catch the person in the act, in which case he must give the person a treat.
Midsummer Celebrations in Ancient Times:
The solstice itself has remained a special moment of the annual cycle of the year since Neolithic times. The concentration of the observance is not on the day as we reckon it, commencing at midnight or at dawn, but the pre-Christian beginning of the day, which falls on the previous eve. Other names for this time in the Wheel of the Year include:
- Alban Heruin (Caledonii or the Druids)
- Alban Hefin (Anglo-Saxon Tradition)
- Sun Blessing, Gathering Day (Welsh)
- Whit Sunday, Whitsuntide (Old English)
- Vestalia (Ancient Roman)
- Feast of Epona (Ancient Gaulish)
- All-Couple’s Day (Greek)
Ancient Celts: Druids, the priestly/professional/diplomatic corps in Celtic countries, celebrated Alban Heruin (“Light of the Shore”). It was midway between the spring Equinox (Alban Eiler; “Light of the Earth”) and the fall Equinox (Alban Elfed; “Light of the Water”). “This midsummer festival celebrates the apex of Light, sometimes symbolized in the crowning of the Oak King, God of the waxing year. At his crowning, the Oak King falls to his darker aspect, the Holly King, God of the waning year…” The days following Alban Heruin form the waning part of the year because the days become shorter.
Ancient China: Their summer solstice ceremony celebrated the earth, the feminine, and the yin forces. It complemented the winter solstice which celebrated the heavens, masculinity and yang forces.
Ancient Egypt:In Ancient Egypt, summer solstice was the most important day of the year. The sun was at its highest and the Nile River was beginning to rise. Special ceremonies were held to honor the Goddess Isis. Egyptians believed that Isis was mourning for her dead husband, Osiris, and that her tears made the Nile rise and well over. Accurately predicting the floods was of such vital importance that the appearance of Sirius, which occurs around the time of the summer solstice, was recognized as the beginning of the Egyptian New Year.
Ancient Gaul: The Midsummer celebration was called Feast of Epona, named after a mare goddess who personified fertility, sovereignty and agriculture. She was portrayed as a woman riding a mare.
Ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes in Europe: Ancient Pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires. “It was the night of fire festivals and of love magic, of love oracles and divination. It had to do with lovers and predictions, when pairs of lovers would jump through the luck-bringing flames…” It was believed that the crops would grow as high as the couples were able to jump. Through the fire’s power, “…maidens would find out about their future husband, and spirits and demons were banished.” Another function of bonfires was to generate sympathetic magic: giving a boost to the sun’s energy so that it would remain potent throughout the rest of the growing season and guarantee a plentiful harvest.
Ancient Rome: The festival of Vestalia lasted from June 7 to June 15. It was held in honor of the Roman Goddess of the hearth, Vesta. Married women were able to enter the shrine of Vesta during the festival. At other times of the year, only the vestal virgins were permitted inside.
Ancient Sweden: A Midsummer tree was set up and decorated in each town. The villagers danced around it. Women and girls would customarily bathe in the local river. This was a magical ritual, intended to bring rain for the crops.
Information collected from various sources
The Cold Food Festival or Hanshi Festival is a traditional Chinese holiday celebrated for three consecutive days starting the day before the Qingming Festival in the Chinese Calendar, which falls on the 105th day after dongzhi (April 5 by the Gregorian calendar, except in leap years). It is celebrated in China as well as the nearby nations of Korea and Vietnam. At this time of year, the sky becomes clearer and buds sprout in the field. Farmers sow various seeds and supply water to their rice paddies.
The Cold Food Festival started from the ancient tradition of setting fire by rubbing wood pieces together and the tradition of lighting new fires. Due to the change of seasons and the change in the type of wood available, the ancient practice was to change the type of fire-starter-wood used from season to season. Fire is lighted anew upon the start of each season. Before the new fire is officially started no one is allowed to light a fire. This was an important event during that time.
The traditionally practiced activities during the Cold Food Festival includes the visitation of ancestral tombs, cock-fighting, playing on swings, beating out blankets (to freshen them), tug-of-war, etc. The practice of visiting ancestral tombs is especially ancient.
In China ancestral worship used to be practiced during the time of the Cold Food Festival. It was later moved to coincide with the Qingming Festival. However in Korea, where the festival is called Hansik , the tradition of ancestral worship during the Cold Food Festival still remains.
In the modern version of Hansik, people welcome the warm weather thawing the frozen lands. On this day, rites to worship ancestors are observed early in the morning, and the family visits their ancestors’ tombs to tidy up.
Falling on the 105th day after the winter solstice (April 5 by the Gregorian calendar, except in leap years). At this time of year, the sky becomes clearer and buds sprout in the field. Farmers sow various seeds and supply water to their rice paddies. The custom of eating cold food on this day is believed to originate from a Chinese legend (see Tomb Sweeping Day), but recently this custom has disappeared.
Since this day coincides with Arbor Day, public cemeteries are crowded with visitors planting trees around the tombs of their ancestors.
In Vietnam, where it is called Tết Hàn Thực, the Cold Food Festival is celebrated by Vietnamese people in the northern part of the country on the third day of the third lunar month, but only marginally. People cook glutinous rice balls (see recipe and more info) called bánh trôi on that day but the holiday’s origins are largely forgotten, and the fire taboo is also largely ignored.
Qingming Festival (also known as Pure Brightness Festival or Tomb-sweeping Day), falls on either April 4th or 5th of the Gregorian calendar. The Chinese respect for filial piety and careful attention to funeral rites is visibly manifested in the custom of ancestor worship.
Since ancient times, a day has been designated for sweeping the tomb and honoring one’s ancestors. Though different in each family, these rites are usually performed on the first few days prior to or following Ching Ming, one of the traditional solar divisions falling in early April, when the frost retreats and spring returns bringing renewal to all living things.
When visiting the tomb, people usually bring the dead person’s favourite food and wine, and paper resembling money . This is in the hope that the deceased are not lacking food and money. After burning the paper money, tidying up the tomb, and putting willow branches around the gates and doors of the tomb to ward off evil spirits, people will eat the food and fruit before returning to their homes.
The folklore behind the story is as follows:
It is said that the Qingming Festival was originally held to commemorate a loyal man living in the Spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476 BC), named Jie Zitui. Jie cut a piece of meat from his own leg in order to save his hungry lord who was forced to go into exile when the crown was in jeopardy. The lord came back to his position nineteen years later, and forgot Jie Zitui but later felt ashamed and decided to reward him. However, Jie had blocked himself up in a mountain with his mother. In order to find Jie, the lord ordered that the mountain should be set on fire. Later Jie was found dead with his mother. In order to commemorate Jie, the lord ordered that the day Jie died was Hanshi (Cold Food) Festival – the day that only cold food could be eaten.
The second year, when the lord went to the mountain to sacrifice to Jie, he found willows revived, so he gave instructions that the day after Hanshi Festival was to be Qingming Festival. Later, the two festivals were combined as one.
Qingming Festival is a time of many different activities, among which the main ones are tomb sweeping, taking a spring outing, and flying kites. Some other lost customs like wearing willow branches on the head and riding on swings have added infinite joy in past days. The festival is a combination of sadness and happiness.
Cleaning the tomb and paying respect to the dead person with offerings are the two important parts of remembering the past relatives. Weeds around the tomb are cleared away and fresh soil is added to show care of the dead.
Today, with cremation taking over from burying, the custom has been extremely simplified in cities. Only flowers are presented to the dead relatives and revolutionary martyrs. No matter how respect is shown, good prayers for the deceased are expressed.
All in all, the Qingming Festival is an occasion of unique characteristics, integrating sorrowful tears to the dead with the continuous laughter from the spring outing.
From: Travel China Guide
The seventh day of the Chinese New Year, traditionally known as Rénrì (人日, the common man’s birthday), is the day when everyone grows one year older. In some overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia and Singapore, it is also the day when tossed raw fish salad, yusheng, is eaten for continued wealth and prosperity.
This day is filled with omens about human fate. For example, any person or animal born on this day is considered doubly blessed and destined for prosperity. So, consider taking out a divination tool today and seeing what fate holds for you.
In Chinese mythology, Nüwa (女媧) is the goddess who created the world. She created the animals on different days, and human beings on the seventh day after the creation of the world. The order of creation is as follows:
- First of zhengyue: Chicken
- Second of zhengyue: Dog
- Third of zhengyue: Boar
- Fourth of zhengyue: Sheep
- Fifth of zhengyue: Cow
- Sixth of zhengyue: Horse
- Seventh of zhengyue: Human.
Hence, Chinese tradition has set the first day of zhengyue as the “birthday” of the chicken, the second day of zhengyue as the “birthday” of the dog, etc. And the seventh day of zhengyue is viewed as the common “birthday” of all human beings.
To generate Nüwa’s luck or organizational skills in your life, make and carry a clay Nüwa charm. Get some modeling clay from a toy store (if possible, choose a color that suits your goal, like green for money). If you can’t get clay, bubblegum will work, too. Shape this into a symbol of your goal, saying:
From Nüwa blessings poured,
Luck and order be restored.
Renri is the day, when all common men are growing a year older and the day is celebrated with certain foods according to the origin of the people. The ingredients of the dishes have a symbolic meaning and they should enhance health.
To honour Nüwa’s creation of animals either vegetable dishes will be eaten or a raw fish and vegetable salad called yusheng. Yusheng literally means “raw fish” but since “fish (鱼)” is commonly conflated with its homophone “abundance (余)”, Yúshēng (鱼生) is interpreted as a homonym for Yúshēng (余升) meaning an increase in abundance. Therefore, yusheng is considered a symbol of abundance, prosperity and vigor.
Almost no Chinese celebrate on this day. Some people just eat potatoes with angel hair noodle. The long noodle stands for longevity. In the past, seven vegetables which can repel the evil spirits and sickness away were eaten. They are as follows:
- Celery, Shepherd’s Purse Spinach, Green Onion, Garlic, Mugwort and Colewort
Ancient Chinese had a tradition of wearing head ornaments called rensheng (人勝), which were made of ribbon or gold and represented humans. People also climbed mountains and composed poems. Emperors after the Tang dynasty granted ribbon rensheng to their subjects and held festivities with them. If there were good weather on Renri, it was considered that people will have a year of peace and prosperity.
Fireworks and huapao (花炮) are lit, so Renri celebrates the “birthday” of fire as well.
Since the first days of zhengyue are considered “birthdays” of different animals, Chinese people avoid killing the animals on their respective birthdays and punishing prisoners on Renri.
Nowadays in zhengyue, Renri is celebrated as part of the Chinese New Year. Chinese people prepare lucky food in the new year, where the “seven vegetable soup” (七菜羹), “seven vegetable congee” (七菜粥) and “jidi congee” (及第粥) are specially prepared for Renri. Malaysian and Singaporean Chinese use the “seven-coloured raw fish” (七彩魚生) instead of the “seven vegetable soup”.
In Japan, Renri is called Jinjitsu (人日). It is one of the five seasonal festivals (五節句). It is celebrated on January 7. It is also known as Nanakusa no sekku (七草の節句), “the feast of seven herbs”, from the custom of eating seven-herb kayu (七草粥) to ensure good health for the coming year.
The celebration of the feast in Japan was moved from the seventh day of the first lunar month to the seventh day of January during the Meiji period, when Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar.
May 25 is the Chinese and Japanese Celebration of the Tao – The Mother of the World. In Taoism, a great spiritual tradition of the East, the Goddess is perceived as the mother of the world, the Way to the heart.
On this day, burn incense to the Goddess and meditate on Divine Harmony. The whole philosophy of the Way (or Tao) in Chinese mysticism is essentially a respect for the truth in nature and her ways. It is also a belief that people must live in harmony with the Way and not destroy or interfere but, rather, flow with it. This, as they say, is:
“Holding fast to the Mother. She is the origin of all things and beings, born before heaven and earth. Silent and void she stands alone, does not change, goes round and does not weary, and is capable of being the mother of the world.”
~Tao Teh Ching
From: The Grandmother of Time
A popular snack all over China, glutinous rice balls (tang yuan) are filled with red bean, sesame, peanut, and other sweet fillings that ooze out from mochi-like dumplings skins. The dumpling skins owe their pleasantly gummy texture to glutinous rice flour, which produces a chewier dough.
You’ll find packets of frozen tang yuan at most Chinese supermarkets, and these days the fillings not only come in the standard assortment, but have branched out into fancy-sounding ones like “sweet osmanthanus” and “chestnut and sesame seed.”
The dough for tang yuan is a simple combination of glutinous rice flour, regular rice flour, and water. Once you get the hang of enclosing the dough around nuggets of sweet filling, you’ll find that making your own tang yuan takes no more than half an hour.
The best part about making your own is that you can experiment with all kinds of nuts and pastes. The filling is a simple combination of sugar, lard, and a filling of nuts and/or beans. Instead of ground peanut or sesame, you can use almonds, cashews, and pecans. (To prepare the nuts: roast them, chop them up, and grind them in a mortar and pestle before mixing with lard and sugar.)
Or, if you’ve always found the red bean filling in supermarket tang yuan to be bland, you can make your own from dried adzuki beans. Coconut flakes are a great addition to fillings of any kind.
You can even vary the fat, substituting coconut oil for the traditional lard. I like to use the lard that I confit with for a filling that’s extra meaty and mildly savory. You could also play around with smoky bacon fat.
Really, you can’t go wrong with the filling. Who would turn down chewy rice balls that release a lava-like concoction that’s sweet, nutty, and porky? Even the water in which tang yuan simmers is surprisingly soothing and tasty to sip between rice ball bites. Make the balls in large batches and freeze them for a quick breakfast or dessert.