Our family celebrates winter solstice, but summer solstice tends to slip by unnoticed. This year, now that I have two little ones, I’m determined to change that. I want us to stop and notice this longest day of the year together. So I’ve learned more about summer solstice, and this year, we’ve got a new ritual.
Midsummer, as the ancient Britons called the summer solstice, was a sacred time. Agrarian families set up a cross hung with wildflowers, which they sang and danced around. That night, they held a bonfire. But the greatest midsummer magic was for children. That evening, little ones sought out the special spots in the garden where fairies were believed to dwell, and they left offerings of cakes or cookies. In the morning, in place of the cookies, they’d find some of the cookies nibbled away, and a tiny treasure left in their place.
I love this ritual, and I wanted to bring it to my family. But first, I felt that we needed to bring fairies to life for the children, and for ourselves as well. How many of us have really taken time to consider, along-side our children, where in our garden the fairies dwell?
Now that I’m a mother, I appreciate that to nurture our children’s receptivity to wonder takes conscious thought and effort. How can we shield them from what, in our culture, would lead them into adult ways of thinking before they are yet five years old? What kinds of stories, images, and experiences can we feed them to help them feel and find spirit at work in the world? Fairies are not a cute idea, not a marketing gimmick. They are one way of saying what the ancients knew for sure– that nature is the dwelling place of spirit.
If there is one lesson I hope to impart to my children, it is this. God lives here. Not anywhere else. In you. In me. In the woods. On the street. In the mystery of things are as they are, and as they are coming to be.
The funny thing is I don’t teach them this. If anything, they teach me. When it comes to wonderment, I am the student, they are my tiny buddhas. My trickster teachers. Wrestling. Laughing. Finding angels under stones.
So we set up a fairy mailbox. (Thanks to my longtime friend Thekla Astrup for the idea!) I told my 3 ½ year old son, Ember, that the mailbox was a way for him to communicate with the sprites who live in our garden. The mailbox is a small decorative box I placed just outside the door. It’s been a week or so. Every day, Ember writes to them faithfully. He can’t write words yet, of course, but he draws with a pen and narrates as he goes. “Dear sprites, I hear you live in the birch trees. What kinds of games do you like to play up there? Can one of you carry a leaf canoe? Or does it take two of you to do it? Do you like to eat mud cookies?”
Each morning, he wakes eager to see whether the sprites have written, and if they have, we read their note aloud. Usually they leave a letter. The other day, they left a song. I’d love to include it in this post, but if I sing it now, it will wake the children… So I’ll wait and post it separately, tomorrow.
And what about you? Does anything in the Midsummer rituals of yore speak to you? What are you doing to mark Midsummer this year?
Wishing you joy and wonder,