With the days getting warmer and longer, we are quickly approaching the summer solstice (also known as Midsummer’s Day), which takes place 21 June. The summer solstice is the first day of summer and the longest day of the year in terms of daylight for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. It also marks the day where the hours of daylight slowly start to get shorter. So why not take advantage of the extra moments of daylight and celebrate?

Today, we will be looking at some traditions, ancient and modern, for celebrating the summer solstice.

Ancient traditions

Most ancient cultures had a way of celebrating the longest day of the year as it marked an end to the long dark winter months and welcomed the season of growth, prosper, and harvest.

In Ancient Egypt, a society deeply rooted in spiritual rituals, the summer solstice was a very important day. It marked the beginning of the Nile’s flooding season, which was believed to have been caused by the Goddess Isis crying over her dead husband Osiris. Ceremonies were held in their honour.

The Ancient Romans celebrated the Vestalia festival, which honoured the goddess of the hearth, Vesta. It was the only time of year the Vestal Temple was open to all women for them to make offerings to the goddess.

The people of Ancient China celebrated the summer solstice as the feminine “yin” force in contrast to the winter solstice’s masculine “yang” force, keeping with the philosophy of balance in opposite natural forces (such as hot and cold, light and dark, and life and death).

Many Germanic, Slavic, and Celtic pagans as well as the Vikings built large bonfires to welcome the summer. This tradition is still popular in many cultures.

Modern traditions and celebrations

In countries such as Norway, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, and Germany lighting bonfires remains a traditional way of celebrating the summer solstice. According to ancient Viking tradition, the fire is thought to ward off evil spirits.

Sweden, differing from its neighbours, holds events where the locals raise and dance around a maypole. Before raising the maypole, it is decorated with greens and flowers.

In Austria, there is a procession of ships down the Danube River with fireworks and bonfires ablaze along the banks and surrounding hills. Fireworks are also set off from castle ruins along the river.

Each year, France hosts the “Fête de la Musique” (also known as World Music Day) which is a series of free concerts across the country. Professional and amateurs musicians alike are invited to play music in the streets. It is like one giant street party taking place throughout the evening until the early hours of morning. The event has spread to numerous cities across the globe.

Possibly the most famous celebration of them all takes place right here in the UK at Stonehenge. Thousands gather at this remarkable and mysterious site to watch the sun rise over the stones. At summer solstice, when standing within the stone circle, it appears as if the sun rises directly over the “Heel Stone” and the “Slaughter Stone”, two stones which are not a part of the circle.

Your own celebration!

If none of these celebrations are up your alley, or you don’t have the time to make the trek, why not celebrate by having an evening picnic with your family in a local park or even in your own garden? Or by watching the late sunset? Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a warm and sunny 21 June!

Banner image: Summer solstice sunrise over Stonehenge by Andrew Dunn (CC BY-SA 2.0)