Midsummer Night's Eve
In Europe, Midsummer Night's Eve, also known as St John's Eve, occurs on June 23rd. It from the pagan celebrations of the summer solstice which were held on June 21st. On that night throughout Europe bonfires were lit along hillsides to the shortest night of the year. It must have looked as if some kind of violent insurrection was taking down the coast of Scotland and England, but these signal fires in fact had a very important purpose. Bones of farm animals the previous autumn were burned and, when the fires had , the remaining ash was put to good use: it was spread on the fields to enrich the land and a good harvest. The word 'bonfire' is from 'bone fire'.
In Brazil too St John's Eve means bonfires and fireworks. Another quaint tradition involves the of small paper hot-air balloons, although they are by law in the cities because of the fire . Bonfires mark the beginning of spring rather than the summer in Sweden and are lit on the last night of April. In the Swedish Midsummer's Eve , held on June 24th, a large pole, decorated with flowers and leaves, is placed in the ground.
Thistles also have a role in the celebration of Midsummer's Night in Europe. In the past they were thought to witches. The pretty, prickly plant was nailed over barn doors and used in wreaths, the circular shape being a of the turning of the seasons. Wheels faced with straw and soaked in pitch were lit from the bonfires and then rolled down hills.
There is less risk of fire in a tradition to many Slavic countries. Young women and girls float little baskets of flowers and lighted candles down streams. Local boys swim out to a basket, find the girl it belongs to and claim a dance at the town's Midsummer's Eve Party.
from S. Burgess and R. Acklam (2005) Advanced Gold Exam Maximiser. Harlow (UK): Longman.