For centuries, the summer solstice has reigned in celebrations of warmth. From the Swedish Midsommar rituals, to the Ancient Greeks' Olympic countdown, to the architectural homages by the ancient Mayan and Aztec, the longest day of the year is rooted in tradition around the world.
The day marks the official first day of summer, and the day during which the sun reaches its highest and northernmost point in the sky. This means that, on the June solstice, the sun travels its longest path across the sky, making the day the longest of the year and the night the shortest for all who live in the Northern Hemisphere. The day marks a turning point in the year: as the sun begins its annual southward migration, the days will start getting shorter once again.
The June solstice tends to be associated with change, and new beginnings. As such, many cultures use the event to reflect and consider what they want to bring with them into the new season. Other cultures celebrate the date as the beginning of a season of fertility and protection. For example, Ancient Chinese culture reigned in the date with a celebration of the Earth, femininity, and the "yin" forces of the universe. The winter solstice, falling in late December, was marked by a celebration of the "yang" forces, masculinity, and the heavens. Many other cultures use the summer and winter solstices as complimentary bookends on our trip around the sun.
Midsommar celebrations in Sweden derive from ancient Gaul, the region of modern-day France. Once named "The Feast of Epona," the celebration was named after a mare goddess who personified fertility and protected horses. In ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes, pagans celebrated their own Midsummer with bonfires. After Christianity spread in Europe and other parts of the world, many pagan customs were incorporated into the Christian religion. Today, Midsommar (and Midsummer) celebrations involve much of its history, with festive bonfires and dancing around a traditional Maypole. Decorations of greenery, garlands, and other flowers can be found with abundance.
Ancient sites such as Stonehenge also hold significance on the solstice. When the sky is clear, the sun rises behind the Heel stone, which is the ancient entrance to the circle. Rays of sunlight are channeled into the center of the monument in glorious alignment. Archaeologists believe that solstices have been celebrated at Stonehenge for thousands of years, and that the site was perhaps even used as a way of organizing one's calendar. These theories suggest that the builders of Stonehenge may have used the solstice as a starting-point to count the days of the year.
From Maypoles, fireworks, and parades, to ancient rock circles, celebrate the changing of the season in whatever form that may take. Learn more about solstice traditions that you can participate in here.