Today is the traditional festival called “Midsummer,” “Litha,” or "St. John’s Day.” In Medieval Christendom, it marked the summer solstice and the first cycle of harvests as well as commemorating the life, work, and sacrifice of John the Baptist. Thus, the festival was a was a day of delighted thanksgiving. Activities in rural English, French, Dutch, and northern German villages included the lavish decorating of the village well which then became the focal point for music recitals, feasting, rejoicing, and dancing throughout the day. As the traditional carol asserted:
When bloody Herod reigned king,
Within Judea's land,
Much woes his cruel will did bring,
By bloody fierce command.
Amongst the rest with grief oppressed,
Was good Saint John there slain,
Who on this day, 'midst sport and play,
A martyred death did gain.
In Scotland, the celebration also included a sort of “independence day” flavor commemorating the anniversary of Robert the Bruce’s great victory over the English at Bannockburn on this day in 1314. According to Sir Walter Scott, “On Midsummer Day in Cotter’s Villages all across the Highlands, Scots parish churches would afix their worship on the Everlasting Compassions of the Covenant-Keeping Laird, the God of Heaven and Earth and Gael.”
Scottish poet Robert Burns penned one of his most famous verses especially for the celebration of the day:
Scots! wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots! wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victory!
Now's the day, and now's the hour;
See the front o' battle lour:
See approach proud Edward's power;
Chains and slavery!
Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee!
Wha for Scotland's King and law;
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or freeman fa'?
Let him on wi' me!
By oppression's woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!
Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow!
Let us do or die!