“The young maid stole through the cottage door,
And blushed as she sought the Plant of pow’r;–
‘Thou silver glow-worm, O lend me thy light,
I must gather the mystic St. John’s wort tonight,
The wonderful herb, whose leaf will decide
If the coming year shall make me a bride.”
Glad Midsummer! This week marks a pinnacle in the calendar — the summer solstice — the longest day of the year and marking of being exactly halfway through 2017.
Historically midsummer was celebrated by a variety of European cultures, including Ireland. The ancient pagans would gather round in the villages, build a huge bonfire in the middle, and welcome the longest day of the year with feasting and classic celebration. People would dance, drink, feast — celebrate the coming bounty of summer’s spoils and ask the gods for continued protection, fertility, and peace. Similar celebrations took place throughout Europe, from Sweden to Italy, Ireland to Russia; each with their own take on the celebration but all gathering around the bonfire. As Christianity began to take hold, the celebration merged into St. John’s Day — a celebration of the birth of John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin who was born six months before himself. Today you can find a mixture of Christian and pre-Christian details in the celebration of on or around June 24th: candles and church masses, bonfires and feasting.
When doing research for this post I found tremendous inspiration for a wedding. Many of the authentic details of a true midsummer celebration are naturally found in a wedding: young maids wear white, flower crowns in their hair, men dressed in their best regalia and everyone gathering together for a huge and fanciful celebration based on feasting and dancing well into the night. I instantly saw in my head what a fantastic and whimsical wedding inspired by this time of year could look like in Ireland, and I just had to share!
Traditionally, a huge bonfire is created as the center focal point of the festivities. In the weeks leading up to the solstice, everyone in the village were expected to contribute something to the fire. Straw, reeds, old or unusable materials were collected and donated for the huge center fire. What is of note is that bones were also collected. Animal bones were saved throughout the year, intent to be used as a sacrifice of sorts for the summer solstice fire and were readily donated when the time came. So named, this “bone-fire” (now “bonfire”) became an opportunity for the villagers to relinquish, to sacrifice, to express communally, and cast into a physical representation their hopes and desires for the rest of the year.
Maids dressed in long, flowing white dresses and white floral crowns adorned their long, flowing hair. They held lanterns and flowers in their hands, and danced around the fire to the delight of the guests. Depending on what country you’re from, the men either wore red or painted their faces. The leader of the village was responsible for lighting the bonfire, after which everyone in order of importance was invited to add their own torch to the pile, creating a massive structure that could be seen for miles. In Ireland, on Midsummer’s Eve people were invited to eat their meals by the bonfire — this ensured a good harvest season and fortune during the long, winter months to come.
The fire has always been a symbol for not just the ancient Celts, but ancient peoples throughout the world. For the ancient Irish, however, it meant protection, especially from evil spirits. The bonfire was used as a way to ward off menacing spirits, ghosts, and general bad luck. As the evening progressed, games were played and fortunes divined. People were invited to jump over the fires to judge their honesty on matters, prove their loyalty, and settled disputes. Lovers, engaged couples, and married couples would hold hands and jump over the fire in hopes of gaining fertility and blessing in the home. Once the fire tired, villagers would gather some of the ash and spread it on their crops or sprinkled it in their hearths to bring luck.
Many couples took advantage of the auspicious Midsummer and actually held their wedding on Midsummer’s Eve.
Although creating a bonfire is not an impossible feat for a wedding today, it may be worth considering different ways we can incorporate that element to create a fabulous and elegant wedding that still is heavily influenced by summer solstice and midsummer. There are a variety of exceptional venues and areas in Ireland that would suit this theme just perfectly.
Nature ruled the day for these celebrations; an outdoor ceremony set right at the onset of sunset would be most spectacular, somewhere in an open space flooded with trees and flowers and soft, green grass.
Keeping in the bonfire’s theme, a space can be created using lights strung about the trees, mixed in with an incredible amount of candles in varying sizes to create the same kind of glow and romantic ambience of the bonfire with a center focal point (tree, arbour, etc.) around which the guests gather. Have each guest hold a lighted candle — not only would this help mimic that bonfire aesthetic, it will also add symbolism and glorious lighting to the space.
Brides and bridesmaids can continue to wear white — a combination of cream, off-white, ivory, extremely light greys even to create a beautiful palette would present so beautifully. In lieu of traditional bridal bouquets, the bridesmaids can wear gorgeously constructed flower crowns in their hair to keep with the midsummer tradition, and clutch lanterns as they make their way down to the ceremony space to again nod to the central bonfire theme.
The groom and groomsmen can wear red boutonnieres, socks, and pops of red in their ties and pocket squares.
After the spiritual ceremony, everyone can retreat back to the reception space: central dance area right under the stars, trees lined with twinkle lights and garlands of greenery and fresh, fragrant flowers. Comfy blankets line the outside of the space in clusters, lanterns with candles giving perfect lighting and a romantic setting for everyone to share their food and drinks. Wine and cool ale is passed around for everyone, toasts are made and inspired on the fly as the Irish band plays traditional Irish music in the background. Some food is passed while others help themselves to the food tables: Irish cheeses, freshly baked breads, fruits and nuts and carved roasts are ready to be devoured. As dinner nears, everyone is invited to the dinner space: long wooden tables are richly decorated with linen table runners, beautiful gold table setting and candle light interspersed with more flowers, herbs, and fruits inspired by the colors and scents of the season. A formal dinner is enjoyed, the bride and groom toasted, then full and happy everyone retreats back to the dancing space to dance well into the night…
A midsummer wedding in Ireland can be personalized with your own unique elements. We can custom-create your ceremony to reflect your beliefs, traditions, and loves while still incorporating a little bit of Irish as well.
Theme: modern midsummer woodland wedding
Place: Kilkenny, Killarney
“…And the glow-worm came
With its silvery flame,
And sparkled and shone
Through the night of St. John,
And soon has the young maid her love-knot tied.”
— A Midsummer’s Celebration
by Mike Nichols
There are a variety of spaces that could function throughout Ireland for a midsummmer inspired wedding, from a more elegant castle garden venue to an enchanted forest, but two areas that jump to mind right off the bat in Ireland are Kilkenny and Killarney, both known for their woodland forests and variety of estate homes and castles to host your reception afterwards.
We love the idea of flower crowns for all of your guests. Consider decorating vintage cocktail glasses with a sprig of fresh flowers like babysbreath, and serving a very traditional elderflower based cocktail at your reception. Lanterns can be carried instead of bouquets by your bridesmaids; they come in a variety of colors, shapes, and styles to suit your wedding theme. Traditionally wildflowers in all shapes and colors are used for midsummer — let yourself go on the color palette and allow the season to speak to you. Keep dresses and suits neutral but not dreary and let the splendor of the season really stand out in the flowers, décor, and food. Strawberries in particular are very seasonal and traditional; consider incorporating them both on your décor and throughout your wedding reception.
We hope this inspires you to consider hosting your dream destination wedding in Ireland on one of the most special days of the entire year: summer solstice! CONTACT US today!
Images: Fly Away Bride, Want That Wedding, Honestly Yum, Brides Magazine, Happy Wed, Wed Lux Magazine, Mywedding, Temperley London, MOD wedding, 100 Layer Cake, Wedding Chicks, Big Day Designs (stationary), Chic Vintage Brides, Botanica Events, Elizabeth Ann Designs, The Kitchen McCabe, Silk & Willow (stationary), Dancing with Badgers (Etsy) (handfasting chord), Pinterest