Today is the astronomical northern solstice. In its honor there will be some astronomical (huge) parties.
Midsummer is not a big deal here, far below the 50th parallel, but it’s big in Scandinavia where winters are long, cold and very dark.
Today is winter’s antithesis: Light and warm, the longest day, celebrated since pagan times.
When Christianity arrived in Northern Europe the Church placed the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on this date to make it a Christian celebration. There are festivals, bonfires, feasting, singing, and (in Sweden) dancing around the maypole.
And there are plays. You already know about today’s name from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
So as you note the solstice today you might call it the “beginning” of summer but it’s Midsummer to those in the know.
(*) Today, 20 June 2012, the solstice officially occurs at 7:09pm (EDT).
(photo from Shutterstock)