Midsummer: Post-school Pizza Parties, and Summer Magic
How do you celebrate the longest and most light-filled day of the year? Inspired by the midsummer tradition of throwing floral crowns into a river, Eleni heads to the East River with wine and pizza.
- Written By
- Eleni N. Gage
- Sarah Wilson
There’s a Swedish saying that observes, “Midsummer night isn’t long, but it sets many cradles to rocking.” That’s because while the summer solstice has the shortest night, it’s also believed to be one of the year’s friskiest, most fertile times.
Partly that’s because midsummer is a huge party in countries from Sweden to Brazil, where bonfires are held to scare off evil spirits and to celebrate the sun on this, the day with the most sunlight. But it may also be because the Druids considered the midsummer solstice to be the wedding of heaven and earth. The idea that the cosmos is ready for romance or adventure come midsummer also makes common sense—everything’s blooming, flowers are lush, and fruit is at its peak.
With my kids now aged ten and seven, I’m through rocking cradles. But I am all about celebrating the long, sunlit days of summer. June is filled with so many happy firsts and lasts— the first time we spot fireflies in Central Park, say, and the last day of school, which for my daughter this year, is her last day of elementary school ever. So I’m ready for an excuse to stop reeling in the rapid passage of time and just bask in the warmth of a summer evening.
When the days are this long and sunny, every one of them seems precious, and I keep trying to make the most of it, pulling the kids out onto the balcony to eat dinner or forcing them to walk through the park with my husband and me on weekends. But I wanted to do something special to mark midsummer’s night, which is June 21st this year. So I did a little research.
In some countries, midsummer is considered St. John’s Day because it’s near the feast day sacred of the Christian saint John the Baptist (June 24), so the bonfires are devoted to the saint. In Greece, where many people make a floral wreath on May Day and hang it on the door, the dried flowers are taken down on June 24 and thrown in the bonfire, and boys try to jump over the flames. My son would love that, but it would terrify me, so: no bonfires or open flames of any sort.
In Sweden, everyone heads to the countryside on the Friday between July 19-25 to celebrate midsommar by raising a maypole (or midsommarstång) and dancing around it, then feasting on herring, new potatoes, and beer. My kids are anti-herring and I’m not about to raise a maypole. (Although I salute any craftier moms who have the skills to do so, and I do plan to bring the kids to the Swedish Consulate’s midsummer festival here in New York, held on June 24 this year in Battery Park, which becomes Maypole Central.)
I settled on another midsummer ritual traditionally practiced in countries including Poland and Ukraine: throwing floral crowns into a river. According to custom, young women and girls make floral crowns they wear all day, then toss them into the stream. In some places, boys jump in to seize the wreath of the girl they like; in others, girls watch the wreaths to see how they float because the current is said to represent how their relationships will unfold, if it will sink or swim.
One of our new favorite warm-weather traditions my kids and I have developed this year takes place on Tuesday nights, after I pick up Nico from the weekly Greek language class I force him and his sister to attend weekly. I’m friends with some of the other moms in Nico’s class, and since May, we’ve been bringing the gang to a nearby playground, ordering pizza for them, sneaking in wine for us, and watching the kids run around until dusk. Husbands have started joining, and last week, when one of the moms brought her parents, I pointed out that we’ve recreated a plateia, the central plaza of any Greek village or city neighborhood, where grandparents watch the kids running around while the parents have dinner in cafes lining the square. Part of summer’s magic is that life is lived outside.
This summer solstice, I’m going to graft an old tradition—the floral wreaths—onto a new one: pizza in the park. I’m going to buy a bunch of bodega mini carnations and bring them along, and the kids and the moms will try to braid them into daisy-chain style crowns, or, if our hands fail us, just tuck them behind our ears. Then we’ll run around (the kids) or sit and drink wine (the moms) while soaking up the early evening sun. In a midsummer miracle, this playground happens to be adjacent to the riverwalk overlooking the East River. So, before it gets dark, we’ll walk over and toss our crowns into the water. (That’s why no floral wire—so the wreaths are biodegradable.) In our hybrid midsummer pizza party, both boys and girls will wear crowns, and we won’t read any relationship predictions into the wreaths. We’ll just send the flowers, and our gratitude for sunlit good times, out into the ocean, along with wishes for many more midsummer night’s dreams to come.
Eleni N. Gage
Journalist, folklorist, and mother of Greekaraguans, Eleni N. Gage is the author of two novels, a travel memoir, and the gift book Lucky in Love: Traditions, Customs, & Rituals to Personalize Your Wedding.