The Sense of Summer
Like many things of such profound significance, we have marked the arrival of summer, and the opportunities that it brings with it, in special rituals – our Mayday celebration, based on the ancient Celtic festival Bealtaine and other pagan ceremonies, being perhaps the most familiar. The original tributes to the reawakening of fertility and carnal desires may have been toned down a little in the way we greet May morning today, but the significance of this turning point in the year remains very much with us.
The approach of the end of summer has similarly been marked by rituals celebrating the anticipation of the fruits of the season’s fertility – the life-sustaining products of seeds sown and animals reared, for which we have thanked gods and spirits through pagan rituals and celebrations, and now commonly in the modern Christian version, Harvest Festival. Our August Bank Holiday, which follows a little later, also has more ancient roots in forgotten festivals such as Lammas than today’s traffic jams and trips to theme parks might suggest.
Less publicly celebrated these days, except by Druids and New-age Travellers, is the Summer Solstice – the middle of summer and the longest day of the year. In previous times, however, this point in the calendar was of great significance because it enabled the precise fixing of dates and, therefore, the determination of the best times to sow and a means of predicting the times to reap. It was for this reason that our ancient ancestors went to the considerable effort of building Stonehenge. Anyone who has stood within the ring of monoliths, watching the ray of light shoot from the rising sun on Midsummer’s Day to align itself as precisely through the circle’s gateway as it did when the stones were first erected five thousand years ago, cannot fail to appreciate the primordial significance of the season.
We might not take these celebrations and rituals quite so seriously now. We no longer worry about whether the harvest will be sufficient see us through the winter – the supermarkets are open all seasons. But summer continues to be a very significant time in our lives. It opens up new opportunities for enjoyment of the environment around us, the pursuit of fun and leisure and social interaction with friends and family — those essential components of a truly human life. Summer reminds us of why we are alive.
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