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Musings from of the day Options
Posted: Monday, April 29, 2019 2:56:42 AM

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The articles in the 'of the day' section tend to be lost in threads where the original post is repeated, so I thought I would start something in KandC that could stand up better.

Anyway, this comes from the 'noon' trivia. In Icelandic, noon is 'hádegi' - high to a day. It got me thinking about how different cultures divide up the day.

Noon is from the ninth hour, from the monastic and Roman system of dividing daytime into the same number of hours, regardless of how long the 'day' is. The length of hours was therefore flexible - and that is a reasonable system because it is all relative. And it makes sense in somewhere like Babylon where there isn't that much difference in day length from summer to winter.

But further north that isn't a logical starting point - instead you divided the whole day (and night) - around the peg of midday. It was divided into eight sections, each therefore being about three hours by modern standards.
It was 'mapped' into the landscape.

Scandinavian Daymarks

The Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans all lived far enough north of the equator that they could not rely on a fairly constant Sun-path over the year, as people in the tropics did, but they were not so far from the equator that the differing lengths of day and night made it difficult for them to use their "temporal hours", even though their lengths changed somewhat over the course of the year.

Very far north (or south) of the equator, however, the difference between the length of daylight time in the summer is very much greater than in the winter. In parts of Scandinavia above the Arctic Circle (at a latitude of 66.5° North) the Sun does not set at all for part of the summer--it is daylight all the time. On the other hand, for part of the winter the Sun does not rise in these same areas. Obviously there is no point in dividing the daytime or nighttime into twelve sections if they are not taking place! Even if the Sun sets for only three of our modern hours in the summer, if one is dividing the daytime and nighttime into Babylonian/Egyptian-style "temporal hours", the nighttime hours will be so short compared to the daytime hours that there is hardly any point in making the divisions.

However, even very far north (or south), no matter where the Sun rises or sets, the middle of its path is above about the same part of the horizon. That means you can always tell when the middle of the day is if you know above which point on the horizon the highest point of the Sun's path is. Also, no matter how high the Sun is above the horizon, it always passes over the same points on the horizon after the same interval of time. Using these facts, the people living in Scandinavia developed a system of time-keeping quite different than the Babylonian/Egyptian system.

As said earlier, our modern system of time-keeping divides each sun-cycle into twenty-four hours, each of which is 60 minutes long. The Scandinavians divided each sun-cycle (sólarhringr, "sun-ring" in their language) into eight sections.

They did this by dividing the horizon into eight sections (north, northeast, east, southeast, south, southwest, west, and northwest). Each of these sections was called an eighth (átt or eykt).

A place on the horizon which lay dead center in any of these eight directions (due north, due northeast, etc.) was called a daymark (dagmark). They identified the time by noting when the Sun stood over one of these daymark-points on the horizon.

The Midday Daymark

What do you think the most important daymark was? It was the daymark beneath the highest part of the Sun's path, since the Sun reaches the highest part of its path above the same part of the horizon every day of the year. This central daymark was named Highday or Midday (hádegi or middag). That was the name of the time, just as we would say "twelve o'clock" or "noon". The position of the Sun at this time had its own related name: Midday Place (hádegistað or middagsstad).

Many, perhaps most, Scandinavians lived in isolated farms or villages in earlier times. They used geographical features located on the horizon (as viewed from near their homes) as guides to the daymarks. Often they would name a feature, usually a mountain, after the daymarks. Since Midday was the most important daymark, there were many mountains named after it: Middagsfjället, Middagshorn, Middagshaugen, Middagsnib, Middagsberg, and Middagsfjeld are all mountain names in Norway--similarly Sweden has Middagsberget and Middagshognan, while Iceland has a Hádegisbrekkur. All of these names are made by taking the Scandinavian words for Midday (or Highday) and adding a Scandinavian word meaning "mountain". They are like saying "Mount Midday" or "Midday Mountain" in English.

The Other Daymarks

Midday was the most important daymark, since it divided the Sun's path in half, but there were seven other daymarks in all, and each of these had names, too. Some of these daymarks took place during the night when the Sun was below the horizon. Because Scandinavia was so far north, during the winter the Sun could be below the horizon most of the time! But when the Sun is not very far under the horizon and the weather is clear, it is still possible to see it's light showing where the daymark is on the horizon.

What is the opposite of Midday? It is Midnight. Just as we have a name for the middle of the night in English, the Scandinavian's had a name for the daymark in the middle of the night: miðnætti.

[ edit - In Icelandic another word for midnight, apart from miðnætti, is lágnætti - low-night, when the sun is lowest.]


It is very easy to find a Midnight daymark in the summer in Scandinavia. Although the Sun often does set for a while at night, the twilight is often bright enough to mark the spot on the horizon which the Sun is beneath. In some parts of Scandinavia the Sun simply does not set in the middle of summer! Then one need only look for the lowest point in the Sun's path, and mark the spot on the horizon beneath it. Just as the Sun reaches its highest point (Midday) at due south, it reaches its lowest point (Midnight) at due north.

Between Midday and Midnight are three more daymarks. The first is called Undorn or simply eykt. The names for this daymark are hard to translate into English. Their origins were lost long ago, and even the ancient Scandinavians may not have known exactly where the names came from--only that they referred to this time of day in the afternoon.

After the Scandinavians were converted to Christianity, they sometimes used the name nón for this time, borrowed from the Latin term hora nona, which means ninth hour--the Roman people, who spoke Latin, had considered the ninth hour of the day to happen in the afternoon (clearly they started counting their hours at a different time (6 a.m.) than we do now!). 7

After undorneykt (or nón) comes Mid-Evening (miðr aptann). At Mid-Evening, the Sun is approximately due west--or halfway between the Midday (south) and Midnight (north) daymarks. On the equinoxes the Sun would set right at the Mid-Evening daymark. Before Midnight, there was one more daymark called Night-Measure (náttmál).

Between Midnight and Midday there are three more daymarks, making eight in all. Midnight was followed by Ótta. This name comes from an very ancient Germanic root-word, *uhtwón, and designated the time of night before daybreak, which was thought the deepest and most frightening time of night.

Even during summer, the sky would darken a little at this time in many parts of Scandinavia. In winter, Ótta must have seemed very dark indeed!

Mid-Morning (miðr morgun) took place when people woke up in the morning.

Most of the daymarks were determined by events in daily life like this. Since the Sun rose so early in summer, it might have been light long before people finished sleeping. On the other hand, in winter, the Sun might not rise until long after people woke up. In a way similar to that of Mid-Evening, the Sun at Rise-Measure is approximately due west, halfway between the Midnight (north) and Midday (south) daymarks. On the equinoxes the Sun would rise right at the Rise-Measure daymark. Before Midday there was one more daymark called Day-Measure (dagmál)--just as Night-Measure came before Midnight.

These other daymarks did not seem to be as important as Midday, but sometimes we find geographical features named after these daymarks, just as we found them named after the Midday daymark: in Norway we find Rismaalsfjeld and Nonsfjeld, in Sweden we find Nonsberget and Nonsknätten. In Iceland are Dagmálahóll, Eyktargnipa, Nónfell, Miðaptansdrangur, and Undornsfell. Around a thousand years ago many Scandinavians settled in England, and they used some of these same naming traditions at their new English farms. Thus, there are some more daymark-type place names in the parts of England where they settled.

of course this system does rely on seeing the sun, which means in Iceland your clock is usually broken! Whistle

And it doesn't work if your high sun is over the sea. d'oh!

Posted: Monday, April 29, 2019 8:55:22 AM

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I can understand that, when the way you checked what time it was was to look at the sun, having exactly equal hours was not always useful, especially in the tropics.

However up here, that would mean an hour of 87 minutes in the day, and an hour of 35 minutes during the night in summer. And like you, some of the Islanders would have zero-minute hours for winter days and summer nights!

Just think what it's like in some parts of rural Western China, where - with 'modern timekeeping' - sunrise is at 11am and sunset at 8pm in December, but daylight is after 9am till after midnight in June.
Bit awkward if you're a farming type.

I've heard that the light-house at Emmanuel point (Lindisfarne) used to be called Medcault for some connection with the sun's - and it seems to have a "mid" prefix . . .
Posted: Sunday, June 23, 2019 5:43:05 AM

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Yeah, I could never understand that problem. If your time zone is mismatched, just start work or school at 11 in the morning! I guess that doesn't work for government offices but for anyone else it seems reasonable.

Another post here because it is also from 'of the day. I posted there but decided what the heck, put it here.

Some artsy writing from the NEw York Times that really belongs in culture. If not literature! Whistle

The tfd linked article in of the day says it is the longest day so I had to debunk that mistake.


It is not the longest day - that has passed, on the 21st this year as is most common, but it can vary because the calendar does not quite match the orbit of the Earth. The longest day, with the most hours of sunlight - the Summer Solstice

24th is midsummer's day (St John's Day). The Eve is on 23rd.

That is different. They are linked, but not the same.

The birth of Jesus was linked to Jule (Christmas, 24 Dec), slightly displaced from the winter solstice (21 Dec)

The birth of John the Baptist was linked to Midsummer (24 June) which is slightly after the summer solstice (21 June)

It is a big deal in Nordic countries.
In Iceland, St John's€Midsummer's Eve and Day are celebrated but not with bonfires - historically, there is no spare wood to burn - you save the bonfires for winter when you need the warmth and light! Also, it was the time of the gathering of Parliament, Alþingi - a natural time for distant people to gather together, both to party and sort disputes. So in Iceland it is also a mystical time, with gatherings, music and fetes, but it is celebrated slightly differently from in mainland Nordic Scandinavia.

New York Times article about Norway

Midsummer Magic in the Lands of the Midnight Sun
MARCH 12, 1989

This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.

Occasionally the digitization process introduces transcription errors or other problems. Please send reports of such problems to

A STORY IS TOLD ABOUT THE AESIR, THE gods of Asgard. It seems that they had to fashion a rope of tremendous strength, and they asked Odin the One-Eyed to obtain one for them. He went away for a while and returned with what appeared to be a slender silken cord. It didn't look very strong, but when the gods examined it they saw that it was woven from the roots of a mountain, the purring of a cat, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish, the beard of a woman, the spittle of a bird. And nothing could break it.

The Nordic festival of Midsummer Eve is a little like this cord. It, too, is a skein of puzzling and impalpable things, of twilight and witches and wildflowers and a thousand curious fancies and lies. That is why Midsummer Eve binds the people of the North with such strength - it has in its weave too much imagination for anyone to pull it apart. Yet the Midsummer mystique resists imaginative possession; you are never quite certain what is instinct and what is ritual. Are people doing these crazy things because they are driven to do them, or because the ritual demands that they seem driven? It's hard to tell. Midsummer is a sort of saturnalia; it inverts the usual proprieties; like all such inversions, it develops proprieties of its own. Among these are hard drinking, especially if you can't hold your liquor, and falling in love, preferably with the wrong person.

The problem is that the white nights of June are a sort of naturally occurring metaphor. They put the year's pulse into your blood. Season becomes mood, light becomes vision, nature is transformed into imagination. Midsummer Eve is only a fleeting moment, but there is no way to stand outside its spell. Try as you may, you cannot avoid feeling the same jubilation and heartache as everybody else.

Astronomically speaking, Midsummer falls on the day of the summer solstice - June 21st or 22d. For the Lutheran Church - the main Scandinavian denomination - Midsummer falls on June 24th, the feast of St. John the Baptist - ''St. Hans's Day,'' in the vernacular of many regions - who was born, the Gospel tells us, six months before the birth of Jesus. But everyone knows that this observance is merely a fig leaf for an ancient pagan fascination. In any case, the actual celebration takes place on whatever date a particular nation decrees to be Midsummer Eve. In Denmark, it's St. John's Eve, June 23d; in Sweden, it's the Friday nearest St. John's Day.

The festivities vary from place to place. At Skagen, on the north tip of Jutland - a spot held sacred by the Vikings on account of the confluence of the Kattegat and Skagerrak straits - the Danes still celebrate St. John's Eve by lighting a huge bonfire. It commemorates the many witches burned here in the old days and also puts viewers in mind of the blazing ships that carried the corpses of great lords out to sea. The town itself is a place of white picket fences and yellow-washed brick, of whimsical window frames and dogtoothed eaves, and the surrounding moor is covered with heather and sweet gale, which is used for flavoring schnapps. A towerlike medieval church with a steeply pitched Flemish gable sits half-buried in the migrating dunes.

By the sea is a fishing port fronted by long rows of fish houses selling eels and boiled prawns and turbot and plaice and smoked mackerel; the little harbor bristles with the masts of wooden cutters and big steel herring boats. At 9 o'clock on St. John's Eve you can sit and drink schnapps in the outdoor cafe of Brondums, an inn where many Scandinavian painters spent their summers about a century ago, and you can watch the revelers parade by to the beat of a marching band. Out on the beach patriotic songs are sung, and a huge pyre of herring crates is set afire under a life-size rag-doll witch with a green frock and orange hair. About 20 or 30 pleasure boats ride in the offing, and people crane over the gunwales to see the red flame flare up against the blue dusk.

ACROSS THE WATER, IN Sweden, the Midsummer Eve festivities are different. There it is the custom to eat fresh local potatoes with matjes herring, sour cream and chives. Then to dance around the Maypole, a sort of mast with a yardarm from which wreathes are suspended from either side; in the evening revelers may also dance the polka and the schottische to the music of a country fiddlers' band. It is said that a draft of water from certain magical springs will heal whatever ails them, and they take a luminous delight in keeping the Midsummer Vigil. But this brief white night is not merely an expression of primitive sun worship; it is also the northerners' answer to the old Italic Feast of Flora - a fleeting hour of festoons and bowers. If a maiden gathers a bouquet of nine different wildflowers and goes out to a crossroad and stays awake all night, she will soon see her future bridegroom in her dreams.

So Midsummer is a holiday with sex appeal, and has been commercialized accordingly. What a boon for breweries and amusement parks! One reads in Dagens Nyheter, the Stockholm daily, that in the early hours of last Midsummer Eve a quarter of a million people passed over the bridge to Oland, a large island off Sweden's Baltic coast. The police were specially authorized to make spot checks of motorists and to confiscate unduly large stashes of liquor.

Up in the hilly province of Dalarna, the area around the town of Sater is notorious for youthful rowdiness at this time of year. Long ago I put on a white cap and sold sausages out of a trailer there; an acquaintance had thought this a great way to rack up some fast kronor, which perhaps it was. The trailer looked like a gypsy wagon; it had a counter with a window, which from my vendor's point of view inside perfectly framed the passing Midsummer mischief. The spectacle of mass drunkenness bathed in lapis lazuli illumination was spellbinding, but foreign visitors might well wish to pass it up. They would do better to find a seaside or lakeside village with a jetty roped off for dancing, or a midsommarhage - a glade with an improvised dance floor - where villagers take their children to sing the old songs and play the old games that go with Midsummer Eve.

DURING THE LATE 18TH CENTURY a kind of cult grew up around the dream of the mystic North. It was largely inspired by the Norse heroes of the Ossianic poems, supposedly written by the third-century Irish bard Ossian, but actually a literary hoax perpetrated in the 1760's by the Scottish author James Macpherson. Little bands of bookish people set out from England and the Continent toward the Hebrides and Iceland and Scandinavia. One of the things they were seeking was the experience of Midsummer Eve. They had read about the nights of dancing around the Maypole, about peasants and even gentlefolk yielding to their wildest instincts, but what they discovered was that not much was actually going on. In Dalarna some young people were throwing flowers around, but that was about it. In the summer of 1804, the German writer Ernst Moritz Arndt traveled way up to the province of Norrland and reported with some dismay that no Maypoles were to be found. The only place one could see them was in the south, in Scania, which suggested that Maypoles might be a Continental import (they were).

Wandering about Scandinavia today, looking for ''genuine'' Midsummer rites, one is haunted by these early travelers' reports. It is clear that for the Romantic imagination the land of the midnight sun simply had to have a Midsummer cult. If none existed, it would have to be invented, and it was invented, in the late 19th century, by a great many like-minded writers, painters and composers. These men and women had not failed to notice that most of the rustic observances traditionally connected with May Day had recently been shifted, for reasons both economic and social, to St. John's Day in June. The change struck them as natural and felicitous, for Midsummer as such had a kind of decadent, fin de siecle allure - the shimmering twilight, the slightly morbid exaltation, the disruptive surge of pagan sensuality. At the same time, the festival's quintessential northernness satisfied the Romantic nationalism then growing in the Scandinavian countries.

All the major Scandinavian painters of the day, including the two greatest, Vilhelm Hammershoi and Edvard Munch, produced examples of the nocturne, and more well-known novels and plays had a Midsummer Eve scene than did not. Strindberg's ''Miss Julie'' comes easily to mind, but the most telling evocations of the Midsummer mood as such occur in the fiction of Hjalmar Soderberg. In picturesque, lapidary prose this Stockholm boulevardier managed to assemble all the images of the modern Midsummer mystique: the white caps of Gymnasium laureates glimmering in the dusk, the half-swooning, flower-bedecked girls, the long, restless shadows, the compulsive drinking and the feeling, when all is said and done, that some momentous thing that should have happened has not happened and that one is left alone with oneself until . . . the next Midsummer Eve.

MIDSUMMER WAS originally a rural fete, and its flavor of compulsion comes from the compulsion of nature itself, from the fixed cycle of the seasons. To sense what Midsummer means to Swedish country people, you must first make believe that you live in a typical old crofter's cottage with red board-and-batten siding and a roof of terra-cotta tiles. Your native ground consists of a few tilled fields and a hilly cow pasture; for up to five months of the year it is swathed in snow and, often, in deepest darkness. In the dead of winter the cottage grows so cold that no fire will avail; in order to feel warm you have to go outside to get really cold and then come back in again.

The snow rises and rises; the winter is so long and hard that you eagerly examine your surroundings for the first hint of a serious thaw, and you rejoice when at last the thaw comes, and with it the great spring flood. On the first warm morning in May, you thread your way through the remaining puddles of April rain and head for the cow pasture. A veil of green has unfolded itself over the oaks and the aspens, and it is through this veil that you spy -unbelieving at first - a mist of blue glimmering in the underbrush. You hurry forward, and in a moment you are stooping before a carpet of the first wildflowers of the year, the longed-for hepatica. This tiny bloom, with its spade-shaped petals and jaunty white stamens, is the earliest of the three wildflowers that all Swedish country people particularly associate with the coming of spring. In a day or so the hepatica blossoms are gone, to be succeeded by white wood anemones in dense, low-lying clouds. Much later, toward mid-June, appear the celebrated ''Midsummer flowers,'' or wood cranesbill, whose blue-violet petals are delicately veined with scarlet and seem to reflect the blue of the sky.

Come Midsummer, the roadsides are bestrewn with straggling cohorts of poppies, and fields of blooming rape blast their too-vital, almost vulgar yellow note over the countryside. Warm breezes waft the nearly overpowering scent of flowering fruit trees and lilacs. The meadows and glades are brocaded with clover and thistles, violets and cowslips, lilies of the valley and babies' slippers. At the edge of the forest, thick clusters of buds portend the berries of July -wild strawberries, wild raspberries, blueberries, cloudberries. The sun shines far into the evening, and when at long last twilight does set in - the endless, endless twilight - it mutes the brilliance of the millefleurs meadows and puts you in mind of the back of a piece of rare tapestry. All is so still, so momentously quiet. A solitary ringdove flutes his three soft notes.

IT IS A TIME WHEN YOU MUST stay awake to dream, but that dream can turn into a nightmare. A little before midnight, when the sun slips down behind the mountain and all the birches swim together in a sparkling silver-green sea, the solitary gatherer of wildflowers may be mesmerized into losing his way. He believes, perhaps, that he is merely searching for rare and sweet-smelling butterfly orchis, but by and by he grows aware that he is lost in the infinite maze of the north woods. In Sweden one who has fallen prey to this helpless sylvan straying is called bergtagen, or ''spirited away by the mountain.'' He has yielded to a fatal love of beauty, and will never find his way back into the world of men.

Love and death . . . they are inextricably woven together in this most Germanic of festivals. There is something majestic about it, and also something a little gimcrack. But you do not need to be very young, or an incurable romantic, to enjoy it. Just give in to the season, the light, the flowers. They are the party the North throws for itself. THE LONGEST DAYS

Jyrkkä Jätkä
Posted: Sunday, June 23, 2019 4:08:22 PM

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We Finns call midday keskipäivä and midnight keskiyö.
Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2019 5:54:43 PM

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Yes - there's a great discrepancy in naming - due to differing attitudes and 'priorities'.

I always knew Summer Solstice and Midsummer - 21st to 23rd of June - which, of course, makes the beginning of Summer on or about the 10th of May (allowing for Pope Gregory's lost ten days, that exactly defines the Mayday celebrations, all that sort of thing) and puts the beginning of Winter as eleventh of November (which, corrected by ten days explains Hallows Eve as the beginning of Winter, source of evil and cold).
Nowadays, calendars show the 23rd of June as "First Day of Summer" and 22nd of December as "Start of Winter".

As I heard it a long time ago (I don't have a reference to give), the twenty-fifth of December (as you say, a little late for midwinter) was chosen as a NOTICEABLE day.
Heading towards midwinter, the sunrise is noticeably later and later each day until the 21st, then it's very slightly later on the 22nd. It's virtually the same on the 23rd and a few seconds earlier on the 24th.
The 25th of December is the first morning when the sun rises noticeably earlier than the day before.
Even in the last century BCE, Mithras (a variation on the Sun God) was considered born (of a virgin, attended by three mages and some animals) on the 25th of December.

Thanks for the NY Times article, thar - it's actually very well written, if a little "flowery, idyllic, bucolic" - I enjoyed reading that.
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