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I always found it strange that the day which marks the beginning of the season of summer is called "mid-summer", which I understand would mean "middle of summer". While midsummer is on the summer solstice (June 20–21), the actual middle of summer would be about August 6, no?

So why is the first day of summer called midsummer?

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Quite simply because it is the middle of summer! In a world with only two seasons — summer and winter — summer starts with the vernal equinox and ends with the autumnal one. –  tchrist Jun 21 '13 at 17:20
    
When you see half a circle of the moon, why do you call it 1st or 3rd quarter? Not every thing is consistent. –  Mitch Aug 15 '13 at 12:36
    
@Mitch First that is the scientific name lots of people call it a half moon still and the reason is that it is when the moon is one fourth (first fourth) or three fourths (third quarter) through it's orbit around earth –  user53034 Sep 28 '13 at 22:50
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4 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Definition 1. a. of summer in the OED is as follows:

1. a. The second and warmest season of the year, coming between spring and autumn; reckoned astronomically from the summer solstice (21 June) to the autumnal equinox (22 or 23 September); in popular use comprising in the northern hemisphere the period from mid-May to mid-August; also often, esp. as in (c) below, in contradistinction to winter, the warmer half of the year (cf. midsummer n.). (Often with initial capital.)

Using the popular definition of summer, the summer solstice occurs more or less in the middle of summer.

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+1 Good clarification. (I've been flogged for answering a question with a question.) –  Kristina Lopez Jun 21 '13 at 19:19
    
Most interesting—I never knew that summer is astronomically reckoned from the summer solstice; I have only ever heard it defined in the ‘popular use’ way: summer comprises June, July, and August (slightly different from mid-May to mid-August, but that is just cultural variation, I presume). –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 2 '13 at 9:59
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The word midsummer comes to us from Old English, and it has a Dutch cognate midzomer, and Scandinavian cognates (e.g. midsommar in Swedish), so it may even come from an older Germanic language. Both the old Anglo-Saxon calendar and the old Icelandic calendar had two seasons, summer and winter. For these calendars, "Midsummer's Day" would have fallen near the middle of summer (probably not the exact middle ... summer started in mid-April in the old Icelandic calendar, and on a full moon in the old Anglo-Saxon calendar).

The Anglo-Saxon calendar also explains why summer and winter are words which have roots in Proto-Germanic, while fall and spring were not used for the seasons until Middle English, and autumn is originally a Latin word.

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Wikipedia has an extensive definition of solstice. There is a section for solstice celebrations, such as "midsummer."

This excerpt may help solve the puzzle of the relationship between the midsummer and the summer solstice.

In some languages they [the solstices] are considered to start or separate the seasons; in others they are considered to be centre points (in England, in the Northern Hemisphere, for example, the period around the northern solstice is known as midsummer, and Midsummer's Day is 24 June, about three days after the solstice itself).

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In German, 'mit' means 'with' and in the germanic old English 'Mit Sommer' meant 'With Summer'. The old English song of the Solstice is 'Sommer is icommin in' and not, "Sommer is y haf igonne'. :)

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The OED strongly disagrees with your analysis. That is the mid of “middle”: see citation. “OE. midsumor; see mid adj. and summer; cf. ONor. miðsumar (Sw. midsommar, Da. midsommer), MDutch midsomer, middesomer, middensomer (Dutch midzomer), mod.G. mittsommer. In OE. also as two words, with inflexion of the adj.” It further gives as its first sense “The middle of summer; the period of the summer solstice, about June 21st.” and provides this first citation in English: A. 900 tr. Bæda’s Hist. v. xii. (1890) 425 — “Swa sunnan upgong bið æt middum sumere.” –  tchrist Nov 11 '13 at 2:34
    
Have you read the lyrics of this song? It's not a solstice song. The lyrics describe spring, ("And springth the wode nu"; the wood is springing, i.e., coming into leaf, and the lambs and calves are still very young). –  Peter Shor Mar 4 at 15:01
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