Midsummer Eve – by Edward Robert Hughes
Edward Robert Hughes (1851 – 1914) was an English painter who worked in a style influenced by Pre-Raphaelitism and Aestheticism. Some of his best known works are Midsummer Eve and Night With Her Train of Stars. He experimented with ambitious techniques and was a perfectionist; he did numerous studies for many of his paintings, some of which turned out to be good enough for exhibition.
For a time, Hughes was an assistant to the elderly William Holman Hunt. He helped the increasingly infirm Hunt with the version of The Light of the World now in St. Paul’s Cathedral and with The Lady of Shalott.
I’ve always loved this piece and May Day seems to be the perfect time to incorporate it into a post; since not quite as many people are familiar with the summer solstice!
May Day is related to the Celtic festival of Beltane and the Germanic festival of Walpurgis Night. May Day falls exactly half a year from November 1, another day which is also associated with various northern European pagan celebrations.
As Europe became Christianized, the pagan holidays lost their religious character and either changed into popular secular celebrations, as with May Day, or were merged with or replaced by new Christian holidays as with Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and All Saints Day. In the twentieth century, many neopagans began reconstructing the old traditions and celebrating May Day as a pagan religious festival again.
The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times, with the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, and the Walpurgis Nights celebrations of the Germanic countries.
The day was a traditional summer holiday in many pre-Christian European pagan cultures. While February 1 was the first day of spring, May 1 was the first day of summer, hence, the summer solstice on June 25 (now June 21) was Midsummer. Fading in popularity since the late 20th century is the giving of “May baskets,” small baskets of sweets and/or flowers, usually left anonymously on neighbors’ doorsteps.
Let us take our baskets early
To the meadows green,
While the wild-flowers still are pearly
With the dewdrops’ sheen.
Fill them full of blossoms rosy,
Violets and gay
Cowslips, every pretty posy
Welcoming the May.
Then our lovely loads we’ll carry
Down the village street,
On each door, with laughter merry,
Hang a basket sweet.
*information found in Wikipedia; poem found on comingholidays.com;