Today is the longest day of 2016, here in the Northern Hemisphere. I always found it strange that “midsummer” refers to the beginning of summer rather than the middle. But today marks a turning, another kind of middle. The days will now grow shorter. Just as winter solstice welcomes the return of the light, midsummer heralds the return of darkness. How depressing is that?
Much as old midwinter celebrations merged with Christmas, summer solstice or midsummer blended into the Feast of Saint John the Baptist (June 24). It’s a big deal in some areas, especially those far from the equator like Latvia or Quebec. Traditions include bonfires, processions, and remnants of magic and fertility rituals. Hence A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Middles can be turning points, like solstice, or calm centers where all is in balance. Or they can be frayed with stress, like the rope in a tug of war. Filipino author Nick Joaquin’s short story “The Summer Solstice” revolves around the frenzy of Tatarin, a fertility festival observed in Manila until World War II. Joaquin’s characters are like the frayed rope, torn apart amid the tensions: respectability vs. abandon, women vs. men, Catholicism vs. sexuality, indigenous vs. colonial culture.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.