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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

The Six Days of Midsummer

JUNE 23: St. Audrey's Day

Ethelreda was an unhappy English princess who had a sad love affair, retired to a convent, performed a tiny miracle and died in the 9th century. Before she was canonized as St. Audrey, she asked that a small fair be held in her memory on St. John's Eve. You could buy cheap trinkets and ribbons at St. Audrey's Fair, and that's where the word 'tawdry' comes from. At sundown on St. Audrey's Day, the great Midsummer bonfires are set alight.

JUNE 24: St. John the Baptist Day

This is the great Midsummer Day: the summer Christmas, exactly six months from the winter edition. It's the day when the Oak King is eclipsed and the Holly King rises to rule the rest of the year. It's the celebration of light, joy and youth, fire, water, air and earth in hope of a fine harvest to follow.

JULY 15: St. Swithin's Day

"St. Swithin's Day if thou dost rain
For forty days it shall remain --
St. Swithin's Day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain n'amore"

JULY 22: St. Mary Magdalen's Day

Mary Magdalen was one of the best friends of Jesus: she was thought to be a prostitute. She is the patron saint of perfumerers, cosmetic makers, and hair dressers… and of repentant sinners.

AUGUST 1, 2 and/or 6: Lammas

Lammas is the first 'loaf-mass': it's called Lughnasa in the Celtic tradition, after a feast in honor of the hero-god Lugh and his mother. Lammas is the second great summer festival, the beginning of the fall harvest when the first grains are harvested to turn into bread which is blessed at church.

This is the time of year for Fairs in England: the countryside is filled with festivals and fairs just preceding the harvest. Servants and workers arrive to be hired off the streets of the fairs for the harvest season. Trial marriages are pledged at Lammas to last a year and a day. John Barleycorn is turning to spirit -- and is wheeled out for a toast.

In the sky, the 'games of Lugh' are taking place: it's the Perseid meteor shower, seen overhead at night every year at this time and for a week or so thereafter. Heavenly flares sent to strengthen the fading summer sun!

AUGUST 24: St. Bartholomew's Day

In London there is a very big and very old street fair that plays for four days: one of the last fairs of the summer before the harvest begins -- Bartholomew Fair.

Roast pig at Bartholomew Fair was thought to bring a family to newlywed couples. St. Bartholomew's was the first day when apprentices went back to using candles in the daytime to see their work, as the brightest sun of summer is past.

Ben Jonson wrote a sprawling, ribald old play about a group of crazy characters who get lost in the swirling, raucous dust of Bartholomew Fair:

"Up then I say, both young and old
Both man and maid 'o summer
With guns and bells that bounce along
And merry tabor drummer
Which to prolong, God save our Queen!
And give our country peace
A root out treason from the land
And so my friends, I cease!"



 

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