The glorious warm weather (we have even had some on our fair shores this week) being enjoyed across Europe offers a chance to carry on an ancient tradition of getting out and about to celebrate midsummer.
The long summer days have inspired artists throughout time, from George Gershwin’s 1934 classic Summertime to Monet’s 1891 masterpiece Grainstacks at the end of Summer.
It was around 1600 when Shakespeare penned A Midsummer Night’s Dream but even that is a young pup compared to Britain’s oldest tribute to the summer solstice. Dating back over 5,000 years, we now know the pre-historic monument Stonehenge in Wiltshire is aligned towards the sunrise on the longest day.
When midsummer actually falls is a matter of debate. The astronomical calendar has the longest day as the start of summer, whilst the agricultural calendar refers to this time as the height or middle of summer.
But whilst farmers and stargazers argue amongst themselves, the rest of Europe uses the latter part of June as an excuse to have a party.
In Sweden, Midsommar is a national holiday, second only to Christmas and what better way to celebrate than a traditional dish of pickled herring with potatoes, dill and chives, washed down with nubbe (vodka schnapps) whilst dancing around a tall pole. That’s like a telegraph pole, not a basketball player from Gdansk.
In Bulgaria and Greece it is said that if you see the sunrise on midsummer’s day you will be healthy all year. This is put to the test fairly quickly as the traditional celebration involves a barefoot dance on smoldering embers.
This is followed by a glass of rakia, a strong plum, grape, or other fruit brandy, which presumably you either drink or pour on your smouldering feet.
Rome has the slightly less risky midsummer tradition of eating snails as it is believed the horned gastropods will protect from devilry – doesn’t do much for the poor snail though.
Alaska is probably the best place in the world to celebrate the summer solstice as the sun doesn’t set all day.
To prove the point a Midnight Sun Festival takes place in Fairbanks each year, featuring a twelve-hour street fair, live music and then a baseball game that starts at 10pm and runs through midnight and into the next day.
However you celebrate midsummer, SK foods has scoured the globe to put together a mouth-watering range of food to keep you going round the clock. Now that really is worth staying up for.