17 Fascinating Summer Solstice Traditions Around the Globe
Check out how cultures around the world celebrate the longest day of the year—and get rid of those winter blues once and for all!
Time to celebrate!
Ah, the summer solstice. It’s the longest day of the year, the first day of summer, and the official kickoff for warm-weather festivities in the northern hemisphere. People around the world celebrate this sunny late June day in different ways, ranging from sunrise gatherings to bonfire-lit revelry and sauna relaxation. Keep reading to learn about some of the most interesting summer solstice traditions around the globe. You just may get a few ideas for how to celebrate on the big day—which, FYI, falls on Wednesday, June 21 this year. Before you make any decisions, though, check out what the summer solstice means for your zodiac to make sure those plans will align with the universe’s larger plan for you.
Midsummer Festival, Sweden
Despite holidays at all times of the year, the summer solstice is when Swedes really celebrate. Is it so surprising that inhabitants of one of the world’s most northerly countries want to celebrate a day full of sunshine and warmth? The Midsummer (or Midsommar) Festival takes place across the country, but most Swedes flee the city and head to the countryside to gather with loved ones during this time. The day is brimming with ancient agrarian symbolism, from walking barefoot in the morning dew for good health to ringing floral crowns around women’s hair to celebrate beauty and fertility. Some Swedes even dance around the summer maypole, similar to the May Day poles in other European countries. If you want to join in the fun of this summer solstice tradition, stock up on pickled herring for a snack and strawberries topped with whipped cream for dessert.
Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival, Ottawa, Canada
Though this event takes place in Canada’s capital city, it’s important to note that it is celebrated on “the traditional and unceded territories of the Algonquin peoples and their descendants,” according to the festival’s official website. This summertime celebration of First Nations peoples includes everything from culinary workshops to arts and music entertainment and awards, and in 2020, the vibrant live festival was transformed into a monthlong virtual event. The cultural celebration lives on, providing a valuable showcase of Indigenous music, art, food, and more at the start of summer.
Sunrise at Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England
Perhaps one of the most coveted seats in the world for the northern hemisphere’s summer solstice traditions is on the grounds of the Neolithic structures at Stonehenge in the U.K. Ingeniously designed to showcase the ascending light of the solstice, the sunrise on this occasion aligns perfectly with a circle carved in stone at the site. Theories of its origin vary, but both mystical seekers and history buffs convene here on the solstice to witness an architectural wonder built, some say, to worship deities of the Earth and the sun. Stonehenge is one of the ancient mysteries researchers still can’t explain.
In ancient Greece, the summer solstice was the most egalitarian day of the year. During the Greek festival of Kronia, social hierarchy was largely abandoned in favor of a level playing field for all classes. According to Britannica, slaves and lords celebrated side by side on the solstice, and certain legal and moral restrictions were lifted. The day was meant to emulate the Golden Age of Kronos, when no one had to labor for a living and all humanity was considered equal. A tenacious group of modern Greeks still follow another 2,500-year-old tradition by trekking 9,573 feet to the peak of Mt. Olympus on the summer solstice.
Chichén Itzá, Mexico
Another wonder of ancient architecture, the pyramids of Chichén Itzá on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula are a wonderful place to celebrate the longest day of the year. The precise construction and engineering of the pyramids create a visual display twice a year in which the central pyramid of El Castillo is bathed in pure sunlight on one side and full shadow on the other. Thousands of spectators, both religious and pagan, come from near and far to celebrate the summer solstice in view of this ethereal spectacle, in which the pyramid appears to be cut in two. Chichén Itzá and Stonehenge are in good company: These other ancient monuments were built around the summer solstice, too.
Solstice Bonfires, Austria
High in the mountains that comprise the beautiful Tyrolean region of Austria, the long hours of sunlight are celebrated with bonfires inspired by ancient tribal customs. Lit across rural areas in an incarnation of earth worship, the fires attract revelers drawn by both mysticism and paganism—though modern-day bonfire attendees may be most interested in an excellent party around a campfire with a panoramic view. If you’re planning to party all day long, wherever you are in the world, pay special attention to the weird ways sunlight affects your body.
If you’ve suffered a relentless winter far from the equator’s warmth, you’ll understand why cold-climate countries truly rejoice around the summer solstice. Scandinavians celebrate one of their main holidays at this time. Referred to as Juhannus, or Midsummer in Finland, friends and family members gather at cottages in the countryside to fish, boat, relax in saunas, and light bonfires. Locals once cast spells on Midsummer to find a spouse and increase fertility, and the holiday is still a popular day for marriages to take place. Bonus: It’s easy to remember your anniversary—and makes for a fun story—when it’s tied to one of the world’s greatest summer solstice traditions!
Midnight Sun Festival, Fairbanks, Alaska
Less than 150 miles south of the Arctic Circle, you’ll find Fairbanks, Alaska, one of the best places in the United States to celebrate the summer solstice. With the ground often still blanketed in snow in June, Alaskans embrace the light-filled respite their brief summer provides. In Fairbanks, daylight lasts a full 24 hours around the solstice, so there’s plenty of time to attend the numerous events that comprise the city’s famous Midnight Sun Festival. Slather on a high SPF and join in the revelry!
Secret Solstice, Iceland
For the last five years, another country with jaw-dropping natural beauty and an unforgiving winter climate has found a unique and vibrant way to ring in the summer: During Iceland’s Secret Solstice celebration, partygoers in Reykjavik can enjoy a musical lineup comprised of local and international artists. And in 2018, the Secret Solstice featured a tour of an ancient lava tunnel and an opportunity to party inside a giant glacier.
Vestalia, Ancient Rome
In the gentler climate of the Mediterranean, the Romans once celebrated Vesta, the goddess of the earth, on the June solstice. During the ancient festival known as Vestalia, Roman women traditionally visited the Vestal Temple and made offerings to the goddess and to the Vestal Virgins. During the week of Vestalia, only women were permitted to enter the temple, and a cake was baked using consecrated waters from a spring considered sacred. Modern Italians still embrace the solstice as a time of new beginnings, and the country comes alive with celebrations. La Festa di San Giovanni is still observed with similar rites of water and fire as the ones performed in ancient times.
Mayan Solstice, Guatemala
The summer solstice in Guatemala is an excellent time to observe present Mayan culture, as well as get a glimpse into the country’s past. Tikal is one of the most famous Mayan ruins in Central America, and rituals surrounding altars like the Temple of the Moon and the Temple of the Grand Jaguar take place around the summer solstice. Spiritual rituals from the past are still performed at sunrise and sunset, highlighting architectural aspects of the temples’ construction that were created to showcase the light of the solstice.
Ivan Kupala, Russia
Slavic countries like Russia and Ukraine also have ample reason to celebrate the end of a long, harsh winter. An event called Ivan Kupala takes place shortly after the longest day of the year, traditionally in early July. An effigy is erected out of plants and grasses and later burned to ensure that summer will have a bountiful harvest. Today, children still have water fights and throw water at passersby on the solstice.
Simmer Dim, Scotland
Although they may not draw the crowds that Stonehenge commands, the United Kingdom’s Shetland Islands are another fascinating place to observe the big event. This northernmost area of Scotland boasts almost 19 hours of daylight on the solstice, and the holiday is known as Simmer Dim, the Shetland term for summer twilight. For more than 35 years, hundreds of motorcyclists gather for a rally (held in Ollaberry the last few years) that includes music, games, and plenty of food and local spirits. Sunrise and sunset are said to be particularly scenic on Unst, Scotland’s northernmost isle.
Norwegians mark the period of Sankthansaften (midsummer) with the same enthusiasm as their neighbors in Finland and Sweden. It’s celebrated on June 23 each year, when revelers across the country light bonfires, dance around a maypole, and engage in other festivities to mark the coming of the long-anticipated summer season. The largest bonfire in the country is built in Alesund on the west coast. Mock weddings symbolize new life, and everyone indulges in plenty of herring, beer, and aquavit. The holiday of Slinningsbålet historically honors the birth of John the Baptist but currently is mostly a celebration of winter’s end.
According to the Lithuania State Department of Tourism, dew drops were considered a sacred manifestation of life by worshipers in ancient Lithuania, and on the morning of the summer solstice, the dewdrops were thought to have mystical divining qualities. The solstice holiday of Rasa (alternatively known as Joninės/Rasos) was traditionally celebrated by searching for a blooming fern in the forest and making wreaths. Ancient Lithuanians had their own version of the maypole, a three-branched pole whose branches represented the sun, moon, and stars. Today, one of the best places in Lithuania to celebrate Joninės/Rasos is at the State Cultural Reserve of Kernavė.
Celebrating Yin Forces, China
In ancient China, masculine “yang” forces and the heavens were honored on the winter solstice, while feminine “yin” forces and the earth were worshiped on the longest day of the year every June. To celebrate the latter, women gave colorful fans and perfumed sachets to one another. In the south of China, the Independent describes a controversial tradition that still exists today, wherein dog meat and lychees are eaten. A less contentious culinary tradition continues in Beijing and Shandong, where it’s considered auspicious to eat noodles on the summer solstice and dumplings on the winter solstice.
While many summer solstice traditions are centered on the profusion of summer sunlight, Astrofest focuses on honoring the shortest night of the year. Through a combination of stargazing and nighttime music entertainment, Croatians manage to stay awake the entire night of the summer solstice. After bidding the sun farewell at sunset, they complete a solemn ceremony, watch the night sky light up with stars, and wait for the sun’s reemergence the next morning. Astrofest is fun and lively, but it is also meant to honor the ancient link between the sun and sustainable life. The hours spent waiting for a hint of sunrise are said to be filled with magic and fairies, elves, and supernatural beings. Next, check out the fascinating winter solstice traditions around the world.