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June 19, 2015

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Page 4 POST-GAZE'I'rE, JUNE 19, 2015 L'Anno Bello: A Year in Italian Folklore Midsummer: A Magical Time What is it about summer nights that make me think of magic, moonbeams, and fireflies and fairies flitting about a darkened forest? Perhaps the answer lies in the velvety hue of the evening sky, offset by the delicate diamond-like stars that peek out from the late sunset. Or perhaps the an- swer resides in the comfort- ing sound of crickets and cicadas humming their melody from deep within bushes and trees. It could also be that people tend to congregate outside dur- ing the warm summer twi- light, illuminating the atmo- sphere with candles and lan- terns from barbecues and alfresco dinners. I always find that the most magical of these nights occurs around the summer solstice, the longest day and shortest night of tile year. In olden times, the summer solstice was known as midsummer, which can confuse those of us who view the solstice as the beginning of summer rather than the middle. Ancient Europeans used agricultural rather than purely astronomical meth- ods of gauging the seasons, and so the solstice was con- sidered the height of sum- mer rather than its com- mencement. As Christianity spread across the continent, Midsummer festivities be- came absorbed into the feast day of St. John the Baptist, creating an indelible mix of traditions. The result is one of my favorite holidays, a festival that embodies the magic and boldness of summer. Europeans in older times began the summer on May 1 st, or May Day, the holiday that marked the time to let livestock out to graze in pas- tures. Summer ended on Lughnasadh, which fell on August 1 st, the festival of the grain harvest and the first fruits of the autumn. As a result, the summer solstice marked the midpoint of the season and as such was called as Midsummer. In Europe, Midsummer her- alded not only the long- est day of the year, but also the period after which the daylight hours would slowly shorten. For this reason, I like viewing the solstice as the middle rather than the beginning of by Ally Di Censo Symynkywicz I1" summer as well -- it makes little sense" to celebrate the start of summer when the sun begins to deminish in the sky! Midsummer cus- toms later attached them- selves to June 24% St. John the Baptist's Day, the feast commemorating the birth- day of the important Bibli- cal figure six months be- fore Christmas. In Italy, St. John's Day customs sym- bolize both the decline of the sun after the solstice and the sense of magic which pervades the evening. All over the Italian country- side, gli fuochi di San Giovanni, or St. John's bon- fires, blaze from the hill- tops on the eve of the saint's festival. These fires both mimic the power of summer sun while also symbolically imploring the sun to stay longer in the sky. Young Italians may also spend the evening gathering herbs, which are supposedly im- bued with mystical proper- ties on this unusual and magical night. According to old superstitions, these herbs work especially well for romantic divination, and people slip them under their pillows to dream of their future spouse. All across EUrope, similar Midsummer and St. John the Baptist's Day traditions utilize the seasonal staples of water, fire and greenery. In Scandinavia, Midsummer is one of the most significant holidays of the year, on par with Easter and Christmas. Sporting wreaths of flowers on their heads, Scandina- vians celebrate this holiday by dancing around greenery- clad Maypoles, building bon- fires near lakes and rivers, and sitting down to feasts featuring summer ingredi- ents like strawberries and potatoes. Meanwhile, girls in Russia and Eastern Europe float flower garlands down rivers and attempt to divine the future by interpreting the movement of the gar- lands. People in Spain and Portugal celebrate the Feast of St. John the Baptist with Since 1969 FOR ALL YOUR INSURANCE NEEDS RICHARD SETTIPANE Public Insurance Adjuster Experience makes the difference! 209 BROADWAY, REVERE, MA 02151 Tel. 781.284.1100 Fax 781.284.2200 Boston 617.523.3456 Free Parking Adjacent to Building change of potted herbs. Ital- ians, of course, never pass up an opportunity for a festi- val and party accordingly on St. John the Baptist's Day, especially in cities of Flo- rence and Turin, where he is the patron saint and out- door fairs and fireworks displays mark the occasion. Out in the countryside, people may enjoy St. John's apples, or le mele di San Giovanni. A favorite of my fa- ther, these are small green apples so named because they ripen extremely early, just around the time of the solstice. No matter where one goes in Europe, charm- ing Midsummer revelries emphasize the importance of the summer sun. and the blessings of the season. The United States even boasts its own festivals full of outdoor excursions, fireworks and water -- the Fourth of July, of course! Above all, Midsummer is a holiday tinged with bitter- sweet nostalgia. While it honors the height of the sun's power and the carefree days of summer, it also rec- ognizes that the hours of sunlight will slowly start to diminish once this date is past. It is a poignant re- minder that nothing lasts forever. Yet, Midsummer is celebrated with joy, not sad- ness. Its celebrations en- courage people to enjoy the longest day of the year by living life in the present moment. We know that the year is a cycle, and that we should appreciate each season for what it offers. The darkness of autumn and win- ter reveals celebrations of the Earth's bounty and com- munal feasts where families gather together in joy and goodwill against the cold. And yes, the sun will be once more reborn in a bright blaze of glory on the winter sol- stice, immortalized in light- themed holidays like Ha- nukkah and Christmas and New Year's Eve. So this sum- mer solstice, live in the moment and enjoy all that summer has to provide on the longest day of the year -- and let's make a vow to carry that sunshine, opti- mism and wondrous magic within us for the rest of the year. Ally Di Censo Symynkywicz is a Graduate Student in History at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She appreciates any comments outdoor carnivals, bonfires, street fairs, and the ex- by Sal Giarratani  .... - Put a Stake in Actor Christopher Lee was a great actor for my boomer generation who could play bad guys so well and with such aristocratic flair. He appeared in over 250 mov- ies, playing bad guys in such screen hits as "The Lord of the Rings" and equally vil- lain-esque as James Bond enemy Scaramanga and as Count Dooku in not one, but two "Star Wars" flicks. While hating to be typecast, for boomers he will always be my generation's Count Dracula and from a slew of gory horror movies in the 1950s and 1960s. My dad al- ways thought no one could be "Dracula" better than actor Bella Lugosi, the definitive 1930s Dracula; even he eventually admitted that Christopher Lee was pretty good in that character. I loved all those British horror mov- ies; they had so much class back in the day at places like the Puritan Theater near Northampton Station in my neighborhood growing up or at one of those grand movie places in Downtown Boston. Lee was a six-foot-four Dracula, but before he hit fame he was a two-bit con- tract studio actor playing minor roles, launching his horror career in 1957 in Christopher Lee "The Curse of Franken- stein." In 1958, he played the famous vampire for the first time in "Dracula." He brought new life into the character and took the infa- mous bad guy in a new di- rection from where Bella Lugosi ended the evil doer. Lee went on to play the vampire from Transylvania in "Dracula: The Prince of Darkness," "Dracula Has Risen from the Grave," "Scars of Dracula" and "Dracula A.D. 1972" (a bad attempt to bring the vampire into the 1970s). Lee also thought he was a funny guy too, and back in 1978 he actually appeared in a sketch on "Saturday Night Live" and loved doing it. His greatest regret, he said, was passing over the role that went to Leslie Nielsen in the "Airplane" comedy movie. He lived a long life and was 93 years old at the time of his passing and his kind will not be seen again. Of course, that is if he doesn't survive that stake in his heart and rise again. Final line, Christopher Lee was a class act with a great smile and devious look in his eyes. 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