The summer solstice, also known as midsummer, is the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and one of the most celebrated days on the calendar all over the world. With traditional roots in ancient pagan rituals, many festivals have continued unchanged for centuries. Here are some fun examples of how different cultures around the globe celebrate the official start of summer.
The longest day of the year is the perfect time to do a salutation to the sun. In India, it’s believed that the first yogi, Adiyogi, met disciples on the summer solstice. So the first day of summer has been widely observed with mass yoga sessions. In 2015, the United Nations declared June 21st the International Day of Yoga, and today tens of thousands of enthusiasts congregate to flow through asanas all over India and Asia, but also in Europe and the USA. In New York City, thousands of yogis participate in the Solstice in Times Square, with free yoga classes outside in one of the city’s busiest intersections.
Spain & France
In the Pyrenees Mountains that border both Spain and France, there are elaborate fire festivals celebrated on the summer solstice. With fire representing the sun, the fire festivals were originally traditional rituals to bless and purify the fields and ward off evil spirits. Once night falls, villagers from across the mountain range carry flaming torches from the mountain-tops and parade down winding trails to light traditionally-constructed beacons in the towns below. The descent is considered a rite of passage for young people and is also a time for social bonding with folkloric celebrations and large feasts.
Sweden & Nordic Countries
In Sweden and European Nordic countries, where there is very little sunlight in winter, boisterous midsummer festivities have been all the rage for centuries. Celebrations involve dressing up in flower wreaths, folk-dancing around maypoles, and traditional feasts including copious amounts of alcohol. In Norway and Finland, they add enormous bonfires to the mix to celebrate the extra hours of daylight.
The site of Stonehenge, in southwest England, is where thousands of people gather each summer solstice to witness a very remarkable sunrise. Although the circle of huge stones was erected around 3,000 BC, the Neolithic people who built the monument obviously had sophisticated knowledge of the sun’s movement. Visitors face northeast toward the Heel Stone, which stands outside the circle. The sun rises directly over it and shines precisely into the center, between its horseshoe arms. After witnessing the celestial event, partying and revelry ensues.
The summer solstice is National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada and a day on which many First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities have traditionally celebrated their heritage. The Ottawa Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival is one of the most famous in the country where thousands of people come to enjoy the large powwow with rhythmic music, colorful traditional clothing, dancing, family activities, food, drinks and fun.
China is vast and has numerous summer solstice traditions throughout the various regions of the country. One such custom is eating chilled noodles on the first day of summer. There is a saying in Shandong province which goes, “eat dumplings on the winter solstice and eat noodles on summer solstice.” Another ancient tradition that is still practiced today is dragon boat racing. One of the more controversial customs, though, comes from the southern part of the country where eating lychees and dog meat during the summer solstice is still common.
Tirgan is a midsummer Iranian festival dedicated to Tishtrya, an archangel who is said to have appeared in the sky to generate thunder and lightning for much needed rain. It is celebrated by splashing water, dancing, feasting on traditional foods, and reciting poetry.