We just celebrated the summer solstice–the longest day of the year–on Sunday, and we’re enjoying the longer daylight hours that summer brings. On Wednesday 24 June, we will celebrate midsummer in Scotland. Midsummer has its roots as a Celtic fire festival, blessing the crops for a fruitful summer harvest with bonfires and using torches to ward off evil spirits. Maybe you’ve only heard about midsummer from Ari Aster’s 2019 film, Midsommar, in which a terrified Florence Pugh witnesses the tradition in a remote Swedish village only to learn that something more sinister is at play. Luckily, midsummer traditions are not so frightening in reailty, rather, it’s a time to reflect on the time that has passed and to look ahead, all while enjoying longer summer days.
This year’s celebrations may look a little bit different than previous years, and we are thrilled to host an exciting line-up of events to help you celebrate this turning point in the year from the comfort of your own home. We’ve taken the opportunity to ask our performers what midsummer means to them and how they are celebrating.
Story, Song and Dance at Home: The Ceilidh House
On Thursday 25 June, we’re hosting a special Ceilidh House, with Eleanor Sinclair, Jimmy Hutchison and Dougie Mackay presenting their talents. The Ceilidh House takes the form of a traditional ceilidh, returning to its roots as a place where a community gathers and shares stories, songs and dances. We hope our digital offering gives you a flavour of our Ceilidh House, and if the space in your home allows, get in the true ceilidh spirit, and join in for a wee dance or two.
Eleanor Sinclair, who will be performing highland dance, explains:
‘Dancing is linked to midsummer traditions in many countries with a variety of styles and meanings in use. You can dance like a frog in Sweden or barefoot on glowing embers in Bulgaria.’
Having lived on the Isle of Lewis, Eleanor explains that midsummer has special significance to her as a day that foresees what is to come in the warmer months, sharing:
‘I’ve spent a couple of summers on the mainland now, and I really miss the view I used to have in the summer months from my house in Lewis. Each year as it got closer to midsummer, nights would barely be dark at all, and I could watch the sun moving round, just below the horizon, from sunset to sunrise. There was a beautiful orange glow on the horizon all night. For me, the transition from long dark and wild winters to the stretched days and light nights is really special and signifies a summer of fun is about to begin!’
‘A shared fire is made better for a story told by glowing embers (sparks flying at the good bits), a shared walk becomes poignant with a story. Stories bring folk and land closer together. Even if staying alone under the stars on a midsummer’s eve, a story may whisper through the thinness of the night, revealing itself as one to be told and explored through the coming part of the year.’
He explains how he will be celebrating a little bit differently this year because of recent events and how he will use this day to reflect and give thanks:
‘At midsummer, long evening walks, wild camping through the short nights and gathering round fire with kin are my usual activities. In ordinary times I like to take an adventure to some remote part of Scotland, sleep under the stars and swim in the sea, take some time to reflect on the first half of the year and start the slow descent into winter. This year, maybe I’ll catch the sunset from the hill at the back of my house, have a fire in the garden and reflect on what an unusual year 2020 is turning out to be. Give thanks for the blessings that present themselves in the midst of crisis.’
Jimmy Hutchison is showcasing a selection of folk songs on Thursday. He shares a little word of advice to those who will be celebrating midsummer at home:
‘I am sure that all kinds of music-making, dancing and storytelling is important at any time, especially this year. A wee dance around at midnight—even if you are on your own will be essential.’
The Perfect Way to Close the Week: Guid Crack Storytelling Session
On Friday 26 June, our monthly Guid Crack Storytelling Session will see Ruth Kirkpatrick leading an evening of stories following the theme, Stories to the Light of the Shore. The veil between the two worlds is thought to be thin, and it is said that spending the midsummer at a sacred site might give you the powers of a bard. There is no better time of year to channel your inner storyteller and share a tale or two.
‘On the night which is as bright as the day there is no need to rush or fash, time to reflect, relax and absorb some stories. Tales from the murmurs of the bees and the ballads of the birds.’
She also reveals a wee sneak peak of the tales she will share on Friday:
‘My stories will include the birds and the bees as well as mice! And I’m sure we cannot let this special night pass without a selkie tale, since it’s said that on this night, the selkies lived to come onto the shore, slip out of their seal skins and dance in the moonlight.’
This time of year is the perfect opportunity to take note of the beauty in the nature that surrounds us and to embrace all the joy the summer season brings, as we take these extra daylight hours to think and reflect on what has past as well as look ahead at the months to come.
Thu 25 Jun at 7pm (45mins) | Free | Facebook
Fri 26 Jun at 7.30pm (2hrs) | by donation | Zoom