June 21st – The Longest Day

Today is the summer solstice, the first official day of summer but also midsummer, the longest day of the year. While the days will now only get shorter, that is a very pessimistic outlook; the heat of the year will accumulate slowly, warming the sea and land nicely, the long nights won’t be here for some time yet. It is the longest day! It is time to celebrate.

The sun will rise just before 5am today, and for once most folks in the City will be up to see it, walking out in the dark and cool morning air to parks, the tops of tower blocks, anywhere you can see the sun rise from. Everyone is very quiet at first, smiling and waving to their neighbours as they make their way to their preferred location. The main library at de Geers will be full of students on the top floor, all at this point some way into their cups, irreverently hooting as the first tendrils of light reach over the horizon. In the parks great cheers will rise from the gathered masses, and there will be a great deal of hand-holding and kissing; it is considered very lucky to look into the eyes of your lover as the sun rises today.

There is a certain order to today’s activities that every Buentoillitant knows instinctively. They’re written down in countless books, books that remain unread by all but foreigners; if you grew up in the City the order of things is ingrained within you. After an early breakfast, traditionally a salad made primarily from oranges and other citrus fruits, folks head out to the forests and fields to gather greenery with which they adorn their homes. Small branches of new, fresh growth are placed over the doorways and windows of homes, churches and other municipal buildings. Cut meadow flowers are displayed in windows, and tied in bunches to door knockers. Children grab fistfulls of goosegrass, sticking them to eachother’s backs just as Saint Ermenine was said to have done on this day.

Quite often a couple of drinks are taken in the fields and forests, perhaps a young batch of elderflower champagne, or something stronger; a gin punch, white wine or a demijohn of cider. Most families have their favourite stopping point on the way home where they pause for an hour or so. They sing drinking songs and walking songs and songs about the sun and the fecund land. Whilst adults drink, children grub for pignuts, a small tuber that tastes something akin to hazelnuts and celery, which is then wrapped in a garlicky jack-by-the-hedge leaf and eaten whole. Younger children are shown by older children or their parents how to find the illusive ‘nuts’ which are thought to help make the children ‘grow up big and strong’ when unearthed today.

After the fields, home, to place the bounty of nature, and to eat and drink more. Lunch is usually a fragmentary affair, with many small dishes prepared the day before and presented outdoors, if possible. For those without gardens, and even for some who do, waterside locations are favoured for lunch; the perfect staging spot for the next part of the process, the obligatory after-lunch swim. Whilst the sea is the most popular option here (the beaches throng today), the People’s Mirror and even the Moway river itself are dipped into, now that the latter is considerably cleaner than it once was.

Most of the afternoon is usually spent like this; eating and drinking and lounging in the sun between dips. Honey cake is brought out at some point, as are punnets of strawberries, traditionally eaten with ground black pepper. Lunch is stretched out across the afternoon because dinner is eaten so late, when the sun has set. Huge bonfires are lit across the City, the heat not wanted but the spectacle a necessity; you cannot have a midsummer celebration without fire! By this point spirits are usually high, just in time for the whirligig, a fairly dangerous dance where groups of five stand in a circle, hold the forearm of the person to their left and spin, right next to the fire, often holding a burning branch in their spare hand. They sing a note together, of increasingly high pitch as they spin faster and faster. Someone usually has a drum to frenetically beat as several groups twirl around, screaming and laughing.

When things die down a little, dinner is prepared by placing a skewer in front of the fire loaded with fish, meat, vegetables or bread. After dinner the drinking continues, long in to the warm night, new lovers breaking off to find some secluded spot, out of the light of the fire. It’s not unusual to see folks walking home as the sun rises tomorrow, worn out but happy.

Whilst this is considered the proper way of things, some obviously deviate, holding their own family traditions instead, or attending religious service. At midday in the Celestial Church of His Burning Highness, the sun perfectly streams in through the ceiling, casting a pattern on the mosaic floor, lighting up the halo of light around the beaming face of their god, His Highness. For the worshippers there this is a holy day, the most holy day, and they spend most of it in deep contemplation on their sun loungers.

There are no other festivals happening today.