In Great Britain from the 13th century Midsummer was celebrated on Midsummer Eve (St. John's Eve, June 23) and St. Peter's Eve (June 28) with the lighting of bonfires, feasting and merrymaking.
In late fifteenth-century England, John Mirk of Lilleshall Abbey, Shropshire, gives the following description: "At first, men and women came to church with candles and other lights and prayed all night long. In the process of time, however, men left such devotion and used songs and dances and fell into lechery and gluttony turning the good, holy devotion into sin." The church fathers decided to put a stop to these practices and ordained that people should fast on the evening before, and thus turned waking into fasting (Festial 182).
Mirk adds that at the time of his writing, "in worship of St John the Baptist, men stay up at night and make three kinds of fires: one of is clean bones and no wood and is called a "bonnefyre" [bonfire]; another is of clean wood and no bones, and is called a "wakefyre", because men stay awake by it all night; and the third is made of both bones and wood and is called, "St. John's fire" (Festial 182).
These tradition largely fell to the Reformation, but persisted in rural areas up until the nineteenth century before petering out.
Other Midsummer festivities had uneasy relations with the Reformed establishment. The Chester Midsummer Watch Parade, begun in 1498, was held at every Summer Solstice in years when the Chester Mystery Plays were not performed. Despite the cancellation of the plays in 1575, the parade continued; in 1599, however, the Lord Mayor ordered the parades banned and the costumes destroyed. The parade was permanently banned in 1675.
Traditional Midsummer bonfires are still lit on some high hills in Cornwall (see Carn Brea and Castle an Dinas, St. Columb Major). This tradition was revived by the Old Cornwall Society in the mid 20th century. Another Cornish midsummer celebration is Golowan, which takes place at Penzance, Cornwall which normally starts on the Friday nearest St John's Day. Golowan lasts several days and culminates in Mazey Day. This is a revival of the Feast of St John (Gol-Jowan) with bonfires.
Midsummer festivals are celebrated throughout Scotland, notably in the Scottish Borders where Peebles holds its Beltane Week. The Eve of St John has special magical significance and was used by Sir Walter Scott as the title, and theme, for a pseudo-ballad poem. He invented a legend in which the lady of Smailholm Tower, near Kelso, keeps vigil by the midnight fires three nights in a row (see above) and is visited by her lover; but when her husband returns from battle, she learns he slew that lover on the first night, and she has been entertained by a very physical ghost.
See also Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
June 24, Midsummer Day, the feast of St John the Baptist, is one of the quarter days in England.
In recent years on the Summer Solstice, English Heritage has run a "Managed Open Access" to Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice celebrations.
Official Website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midsummer
Added by Steve Jeffrey on December 27, 2008