Tuesday, June 24, 2008

St John's Day

Da Vinci's John the BaptistBean Sprouts is not Wikipedia. When I write a post about the summer solstice I don't include every fine point about the astronomical definition, how it fits in to the various definitions of "summer", and its social significance throughout history. Bean Sprouts is my personal blog and I write about what the solstice means to me personally, and how it fits into my philosophy.

I studied astronomy at university and so I am more sympathetic to the helio-centric (based on the movements of the sun) definition of "midsummer" than any other. The solstice "feels" like midsummer to me. But there are other dates that vie for the title. Today is one of them - June 24th, St John's Day.

If you visit the Wikipedia page about Midsummer you can learn about the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars, and why it is that 24th June used to occur on the solstice but now is a few days later. The (presumably) pre-Christian solstice celebrations (we really have very little evidence about it, but we make some educated guesses and some wild leaps of faith) were Christianised into the feast of St John the Baptist. For many people, 24th June, St John's Day, is still midsummer. They have bonfires, feasts, dancing and all the other things people do on high days. In Britain we don't have nearly enough of these occasions any more. Damn Puritans.

Well I'm going to a party tonight, not for St John's Day but my choir's end-of-season party. We'll have feasting and singing and perhaps dancing. No bonfire though. I hope you have a happy midsummer, too.


Neil said...

I hope my comment didn't prompt this. It was in reply to the previous comments about the 24th as I thought they were unclear whether they were talking about the solstice (which is 21st give or take a bit) or the title of midsummer (which should (sort of) be the 21st if we hadn't changed calendars).

Not being religious, I'd never heard of St Johns day or that people celebrate Midsummer on the 24th.

I've always seen midsummers day as an alternative (but slightly misleading) name for the solstice, so should be 21st.

Melanie Rimmer said...

Heh heh, you're OK Neil. Sorry if it came across as a bit snarky.

When writing Bean Sprouts I'm constantly fighting the urge to slip into "lecturer mode" and give the readers the full benefit of my enormous general knowledge. But if I did that I wouldn't have any readers, so I try to select only the information that is relevant and applicable. I often worry whether I'm getting the balance right. Should I really tell them more? Does it look like I left things out because I'm ignorant of them? Or should I really tell them less? Am I overloading people with too much information?

In the end I usually just please myself. If I wanted to court readers I could always include more celebrity gossip and updates from all the soap operas. But anyway I'm sensitive about it and it sort of came out in this post.

Anonymous said...

I think you get the balance exactly right. You give us information that is interesting, without making us "less educated" people feel like idiots.
Thanks for another great post.

Joyce said...

I like the info as well. Americans don't pay much attention to Midsummer at all. Mybe it's our latitude- we don't have such a significant difference in seasonal day length here. Or, maybe it's that Puritan influence:)

Anonymous said...

You've got the balance about right, Mel. You tell us enough to satisfy basic curiosity and you usually give pointers (even if they're only implicit) to more information if we're sufficiently interested to bother to look.

Don't bother worrying about what your readers make of your various ramblings - after all, we're still here, innit :)


Unknown said...

I was only querying the term "Midsummer" because it was always completely separate from the Solstice in my upbringing & I always thought it strange that Summer lasted just 5 days. The Solstice was noted, but St. John's Day totally ignored ~ we were more interested in trying to remember St. Swithin. Living 12 miles from Glaston meant that the Solstice was a big thing in that area. I try to keep the old calendar, the Celtic calendar & the Russian calendars (old & new) running alongside the modern.

Bean Sprouts, could you do a post on Lughnasa sometime ~ I know it's the Celtic harvest & vaguely equates to Lammas in the Church calendar, but I have only vague ideas about it.

Have you come across the book "Catten Cakes & Lace"? It takes you through traditional recipes & the festivals associated with them, starting with St. Catherine's Day in November. One year I made Catten Cakes & biscuits for St. Clementine, dressed in my Tudor kit, grabbed my lace pillow & talked to the village school about the lacemakers, Katharine of Aragon & the only day the lacemakers had off. I think the only thing the childer will have remembered was the odd lady in a long dress & snood with food during school lesson time!

Sol said...

If you go here http://viewfinder.english-heritage.org.uk/

You can see what Stonehenge and the solstice was like in the 1950's, druids and all. Take a look.

Not how it is today, hoards of people who do not realise how special it is.

I myself have recently visited Stonehenge. They have been digging there to retrieve organic matter from below the stones to see why it is there. Unlocking the mystery...

marigold said...

I don't think anyone in the general public would have known the difference. I didn't - until I looked it up the day before you posted this. I was surprised to find out that you studied Astromony, a very noble subject. My first degree is in Maths; although, I never tell anyone unless I want to sit through an hour of "How I got my Maths anxiety when I was ten."

How did you end up in Critical Analysis? You're one interesting woman, Mrs. Bean Sprouts. That's why I keep coming back to this web page.

Unknown said...

The current (I think) edition of the National Geographic Magazine has its main article about Stonehenge, & other ancient sites on Salisbury Plain. I'm finding it interesting & thought-provoking with the maybe links to ritual Preseli & the Avon.

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