What do St. John's Wort (the herb), and July 4 Fireworks have in common? Lots more than you think. If fact, lots more than I thought just a few hours ago.
Preparing for the next installment of Jonathan's Coffeeblog, I decided to do something in the Gods and Myths category, but no gods or myths came to mind, until I remembered this: exactly six months ago I had written about the Winter Solstice, and that the Summer Solstice has arrived within the last few days. Spring is over, summer is here.
Now if I were a Christian, I might have known that the feast day of John the Baptist was coming up on June 24 (the exact day that this is being posted to my weblog.) Since I'm not Christian, however, I knew nothing about St. John's birthday until I looked up the summer solstice in the Wikipedia, and then I hit the jackpot.
It seems that the Irish consider May 1 as the beginning of summer, and August 1 as the end, or so I read. The solstice, therefore, is smack dab in the middle of summer, and therefore called Midsummer.
Well, what's so weird about the solstice? For one thing, the sun rises earlier and sets later and any other day of the year. That's especially weird if you live in the far north, where the sun might set around 2 AM, or not at all, if you're above the Arctic Circle. Another weird thing about the summer solstice is that the days start to get shorter again for the next six months. Makes a guy want to do something about that.
Now if you live in the far north, midsummer is the season to gather your medicinal herbs, because by the first snow it'll be too late. And in the north Midsummer celebrations are very conscious of "magical" herbs and their powers. According to this German website, Johanniskraut (yes, that's what they call it), is the king of the magical plants at Midsummer. Here in the USA we call it St. John's Wort, and no less a purveyor of wisdom than the U. S. Government touts its powers as an antidepressant. Let's face it, the idea that the days are getting shorter for the next six months is depressing.
So what about Independence Day in the US, with our barbecues and fireworks? Officially the holiday has nothing to do with any solstice and everything about American independence from European politics. The bonfires have become fireworks, or are kept small enough to broil hamburgers and spareribs. (In Dillon Beach, on the California coast, not far from where I live, however, they had bonfires as recently as 2003.)
The beautiful photograph shown above depicts bonfires in Germany; all of Northern Europe, including the former Baltic Soviet Republics celebrate Midsummer, and that includes the descendants of Northern Europeans in the US, like these Swedes in New York. The French, of course, have Bastille Day with dancing, fireworks, and outdoor lights.
And so, Coffeeblog fans, raise a cup of French Roast to Saint John the Baptist, and hope that you can keep your head until the Winter Solstice rolls around again without having to take the magic herb that bears his name.| Technorati Tags: Summer Midsummer Solstice Bonfire Fireworks Herb
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