I have been looking at the weekly news articles that were published by former Museum Curator, Martin Matthews. The article was called ‘Bygone Days’ and could be found in the West Briton newspaper for several years starting from 2003. He wrote a total of 105 articles, all about different local topics.
Today, I am writing about another article I enjoyed. It is called “Midsummer Eve celebrations.” Midsummer Eve is originally a Pagan celebration where people used to worship the sun. Bonfires are lit on Midsummer Eve to celebrate the sun being at its peak. The fires were supposed to bless the crops, animals, maturing fruit and grain.
The Church Christianised the Midsummer celebrations by making the date of June 24th the Feast of the Nativity of St John. Even though it had been Christianised, the bonfires were still lit for good luck and animal sacrifices were also carried out. The customs gradually died out in the early 1870’s and hilltop fires appear to have stopped around the same time. In 1929, the federation of Old Cornwall Societies brought back some of the Midsummer Eve customs. A chain of bonfires were organised throughout Cornwall.
Fires were lit from Carn Brea overlooking Lands End and continued through the county to Kit Hill, near the Devon border. Helston Old Cornwall Society still continues with the tradition and for many years bonfires were lit on Manhay Beacon by members of the Society. In modern day services, herbs are thrown over the fire to be used as a symbol. “Good” and “bad” herbs are used. The “good” herbs are from plants that can be used for medicinal value as they were believed to have protection from witchcraft. The “bad” herbs were weeds and plants which were believed to have “malign influences.” Clover and Valerian are examples of “good” herbs that were used and dock, nettle and corn cockle are a few of the “bad” herbs that were used. After the service, all those who attended would indulge in a pasty supper. The evening was usually concluded by singing around the embers of the fire.
After doing further research into the tradition, I found that Midsummer celebrations can also be known as Golowan Festival. The celebrations are most popular in the Penwith, Penzance and Newlyn areas. I have also discovered that the well-known Mazey Day event that occurs in Penzance is to celebrate these Midsummer traditions.
I’ve really enjoyed finding out more about the Midsummer Eve traditions, as this is something that I have never heard of before. I was very surprised to discover the length of time this has been celebrated and that we still celebrate it to this day. I loved how different and alternative the festival is and may even attend some of these celebrations myself out of interest.
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