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5 Ways to Celebrate the Summer Solstice Around the World

5 Ways to Celebrate the Summer Solstice Around the World

Hooray for the summer solstice! The moment when the sun reaches its farthest point north of the equator, bringing those of us in the northern hemisphere the longest day of the year, is just about here. This year, the solstice falls on Saturday, June 21, at 6:51 am EDT, a magical moment when night and day are perfectly balanced.

The word solstice is from the Latin solstitium, from sol (sun) and stitium (to stop), reflecting the fact that the sun appears to stop at this time (and again at the winter solstice).

How does this work? Since our world is tilted on its axis by 23-and-a-half degrees, Earth’s northern and southern hemispheres trade places in receiving the sun’s light and warmth most directly.

Not surprisingly, such an auspicious natural event is celebrated worldwide. Here are 5 ways the solstice is celebrated around the world:

Stonehenge, U.K.

For us today, the solstice can be a time to recall the reverence and understanding that early people had for the sky. Around 3100 BCE people placed huge stones in a circle on a broad plain in what is now England and aligned them with the June solstice sunrise.

The mystery of Stonehenge (see above) may never be solved, but we do know that around the same time Stonehenge was being constructed in England, two great pyramids and then the Sphinx were built on Egyptian sands. If you stood at the Sphinx on the summer solstice and gazed toward the two pyramids, you could see the sun set exactly between them. There are also many other megalith structures in Europe.

Every year at Stonehenge, thousands of people descend on the monument in wild clothing and wait for dawn to arrive on the day of the summer solstice. Last year, about 21,000 people, including pagans, druids and partygoers, were at the ancient monument to greet the longest day of the year. There was dancing, chanting, drumming, drinking and even some handfasting ceremonies.

Sweden, Finland, Denmark

The summer solstice is a national holiday in Sweden and Finland, where it is known as Midsummer’s Eve. The day is celebrated with copious amounts of herring, vodka, singing and a dance around the maypole. In honor of the holiday, people clean their houses before decorating them with flowers and other flora.

In Sweden, it’s the custom to celebrate by singing and dancing around a maypole that’s been decorated with flowers, while the Danes sing a song called “We Love Our Land,” burn straw witches in bonfires, eat foods such as smoked fish, pickled herring, potatoes and strawberries, and drink beer and schnapps.

Greece, France

Celebrating the longest day of the year is related to ancient fertility practices and ceremonies performed to ensure a successful harvest. The holiday was later rededicated to honor St. John the Baptist in Christian times.

In many parts of the world, bonfires are lit to celebrate the sun at the peak of its power. In Greece, men like to show off by leaping over the massive flames, while in France a fire marks the beginning of an annual music festival (Fête de la Musique).

For those in the southern hemisphere, of course, the opposite is true; the June solstice means the beginning of winter.

New Zealand

Matariki, the traditional Maori celebration of the winter solstice, is marked by the arrival of the Matariki / Pleiades star constellation in the southern skies. This is an ancient festival that plays out across the country with a huge variety of community and family events to celebrate and give thanks for the end of the season’s harvests and anticipate the lengthening days of the approaching summer.

At Dunedin, on the south island, a colorful Midwinter Carnival is held on the Saturday nearest to the winter solstice. The theme for this year is ‘A Winter Dreamland’ and it promises to include new giant lanterns, dazzling costumes and entertainment, fireworks, delicious food, music and a fire performance.

Chile

In Chile the June solstice coincides with the celebration of We Tripantu, where indigenous Mapuche communities up and down the length of Chile welcome the birth of the new sun. According to the Mapuche vision of the world, the new sun is born in winter and begins to grow throughout the spring before reaching the prime of its life at the height of summer.

Family members and friends gather together around a fire or stove to eat, drink and tell traditional stories. Folk music is played throughout the night and as dawn breaks, people head down to nearby rivers and streams to wash and cleanse away anything negative they’ve picked up throughout the year.

With so many fascinating customs around the world, how will you celebrate this year’s solstice?

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Photo Credit: iStock

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101 comments

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8:40AM PDT on Jul 2, 2014

I watched the sun rise, and gave thanks.

3:56AM PDT on Jun 24, 2014

ty

2:32AM PDT on Jun 24, 2014

interesting article,thank you

6:59PM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

I will find ways to enjoy this next month before I start to notice that the days are getting shorter again.

2:35AM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

Thank you for the interesting article Judy.:)

11:29PM PDT on Jun 22, 2014

Thank you

4:01PM PDT on Jun 22, 2014

Did not know that in some parts of the world it is marked holiday ! :)

12:44PM PDT on Jun 22, 2014

Lloyd H 8:53am PDT 21st June - you misunderstand. Yes the solstice is seen as the longest day (or shortest in winter), but it's also the moment the Earth reaches its nearest or furthest point (summer and winter respectively) from the sun. As the Earth wobbles around tilting on its axis to give us seasons, that moment when it reaches its furthest point before tilting back the other way is the solstice. So yes, there can be a specific time that it happens, and that time is the same no matter where in the world you are. Hope everyone had a great solstice!

3:45AM PDT on Jun 22, 2014

Would just like to quickly add another fantastic way to celebrate the Solstice. In 2008 I travelled to Dawson City, Yukon as part of a month long trip to Alaska and Canada's far north. Outside of Dawson City being one of the coolest cities in the world (from my humble perspective), every year on the eve of the solstice the entire city and its tourists are encouraged to hike up to Mountain Dome - the entire hike takes about 2 hours, but worth it. From there you get almost 360 degree panoramic views of the city below and then watch the sunset that sets at about 12:45am and the sun then rises again about an hour later. Breathtaking and what a party!

3:20AM PDT on Jun 22, 2014

Happy Summer share the joy...
It seems like only yesterday - or any I getting older - we were with friends marking the Winter Solstice.
Looking up at the beautiful stars in the darkness of a cold Scottish night (luck enough to live in a 'dark skies' area). Sitting out in the garden, gathered around a big fire and playing guitar and singing as it began to snow!
The warmth and fellowship of that party banished the cold.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches and writes about ancient Greek and Latin and is Online Advocacy and Marketing... more
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