Fourth of July: Celebration of the Sun

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Image from our Hafiz 2016 wall calendar featuring artwork by Silas Toball of Duirwaigh Studio.

I like to think of Fourth of July as a secular version of pagan Midsummer festivals.

Like many historical holidays, Fourth of July seems to have co-opted many of the symbols of the earlier celebrations at this time of year. For centuries at Summer Solstice, people stayed up all night, dancing around bonfires and rolling burning wheels down the hillsides, to honor the sun. On Fourth of July, we set off pinwheels in the street (evoking the circle, the symbol of the sun), wave sparklers around in the darkness (they look like the embers dancing up from a bonfire), and gaze at fireworks blazing overhead late into the night.

Many families spend the daytime hours on Fourth of July at parks and lakes, enjoying a picnic lunch and eagerly waiting for the sun to set on one of the longest days of the year. We worship the sun and may pay for our devotion with sunburns.

Both Midsummer and Fourth of July are associated with heavy drinking. In fact, Fourth of July is one of the deadliest holidays in America due to alcohol-related traffic accidents. The traditional Fourth of July BBQ combines many of these elements: drinking and fire and spending hours outdoors with friends and family.

Midsummer has always been a time of revelry and romance. A Swedish proverb says “Midsummer’s night is not long but it sets many cradles rocking.” The Fourth of July places a little more emphasis on family than on coupling, but there’s no denying the romance involved in lying in your lover’s arms in a grassy park while watching fireworks burst overhead.

Of course, there are many differences between Fourth of July and Midsummer. Midsummer festivals also celebrate flowers and herbs, and often include the element of water (which we acknowledge here in Seattle by setting our fireworks off over Lake Union). Still, when I’m annoyed by the drunken crowds or frightened by the sound of firecrackers exploding, I remind myself this is just the traditional way to celebrate the height of Summer and the glory of the Sun.


Waverly FitzgeraldWaverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who has studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shares her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. She is currently working on a series of essays about looking for nature in the city and blogs for the Seattle PI as the “Urban Naturalist.”

 

 


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Happy 80th Birthday to His Holiness the Dalai Lama

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Photo by Tenzin Choejor, courtesy of the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has stated that the highest respect one can show the teacher is to practice the teachings. To that end, and in honor of his birthday on July 6th, we offer the Eight Stanzas for Training the Mind from the Tibetan lojong, or mindtraining tradition. Tibetan Buddhism suggests that reciting these verses, meditating on their meaning, and ultimately merging them with one’s mind will greatly assist one on the path to enlightenment. His Holiness has recited these verses every day for most of his life. They provide a tool for transformation and a pathway to the radiant mind of enlightenment.

Eight Stanzas for Training the Mind

  1. With a determination to accomplish
    The highest welfare for all sentient beings
    Who surpass even a wish-granting jewel
    I will learn to hold them supremely dear.
  2. Whenever I associate with others I will learn
    To think of myself as the lowest among all
    And respectfully hold others to be supreme
    From the very depths of my heart.
  3. In all actions I will learn to search into my mind
    And as soon as an afflictive emotion arises
    Endangering myself and others
    Will firmly face and avert it.
  4. I will learn to cherish beings of ill nature
    And those oppressed by strong sins and suffering
    As if I had found a precious
    Treasure very difficult to find.
  5. When others out of jealousy treat me badly
    With abuse, slander, and so on,
    I will learn to take all loss
    And offer victory to them.
  6. When one whom I have benefited with great hope
    Unreasonably hurts me very badly,
    I will learn to view that person
    As an excellent spiritual guide.
  7. In short, I will learn to offer to everyone without exception
    All help and happiness directly and indirectly
    And respectfully take upon myself
    All harm and suffering of my mothers.
  8. I will learn to keep all these practices
    Undefiled by the stains of the eight worldly conceptions
    And by understanding all phenomena as like illusions
    Be released from the bondage of attachment.

Around the web…

When preparing this post today, I was delighted to see all the news stories about celebrations around the globe for this most amazing human being. I loved this video from the Friends of the Dalai Lama and their request:

Give the Dalai Lama, who has dedicated his life to peace and kindness, the ultimate 80th birthday present: share how you will make the world a more compassionate place using #‎WithCompassion.

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Midsummer’s Day

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Illuminati greeting card featuring artwork by Duirwaigh Studios from our Duirwaigh Classics card series.

Although the media will be filled with announcements that summer has begun on Summer Solstice, this date should really be considered Midsummer, an older name for this holiday, as the sun is at its height on Summer Solstice. Afterward, it begins a slow decline as the hours of darkness creep forward. Continue reading

Dragon Boat Festival

The fifth day of the fifth Chinese month (June 20 this year) is also known as the Feast of the Summer Solstice or Upright Sun. People flock to the banks of rivers and lakes to watch brightly colored dragon boat races. It was believed that this would encourage the dragons in the heavens to fight, thus bringing rain at a time when it is needed for the crops (although now this is often the end of the rainy season).

The traditional food is zongzi, triangular rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves. In ancient China, they were stuffed with cherries, mulberries, peaches, apricots, and other seasonal fruits. The traditional drink is realgar wine, which is considered an antidote against poison. Continue reading