Midsummer started as a pagan ritual for fertility and a successful harvest during the Stone Age. The pagans believed that plants had healing properties during the summer solstice and they honored the day showing reverence to nature with rituals. They danced around maypoles, fashioned garnets, and herbs were picked on Midsummer’s Eve and bonfires were used to keep away any evil spirits. It was said that spirits were free to roam the earth when the sun was turning towards the southern hemisphere.
In the fourth century, the holiday was changed to fit into Christian beliefs that honored St. John the Baptist called St. John’s Day. In the Gospel of Luke, Saint John’s birthday is said to be six months before the birth of Jesus, which would put his birthday in June. It was celebrated by bathing in water the night before for purification, a feast, and prayer on the holiday, but despite the name change, some of the customs from Midsummer remained.
In the Middle Ages, Germany had its own Midsummer rituals which would eventually be adopted by Sweden and others. Germanic neopagans called their summer solstice festival Litha. In their rituals, the Maypole was decorated with leaves and raised on May 1, which is where the name comes from. It was hard to find green leaves during that time, and the holiday was moved to Midsummer.
Today, it’s still a celebrated holiday and it’s incredibly popular. In Sweden, it comes only second to Christmas and people travel from all over the world to experience it themselves. During the time of the Summer Solstice, inhabitants of the British Isles and Scandinavia have nearly a full day of sunlight, making it easy for them to imagine how the Pagans once lived and they reenact the traditions of old.