14 Fascinating Summer Solstice Traditions Around the Globe
Check out how cultures around the world celebrate the day of the year that contains the most hours of glorious, energizing, winter-blues-chasing sunlight.
Sunrise at Stonehenge
Perhaps one of the most coveted seats around the world for the northern hemisphere’s summer solstice is on the grounds of the Neolithic structures at Stonehenge in the UK. 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 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 sun. Stonehenge happens to be one of the 10 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 of 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 solstice in view of this ethereal spectacle, in which the pyramid appears to be cut in two.
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 draw revelers drawn by both mysticism and paganism—modern day bonfire attendees may be most interested in an excellent party ’round a campfire with a panoramic view. During this longest day, you might have to be especially aware of 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 around the June solstice. Referred to as Juhannus, or Midsummer in Finland, friends and families gather at cottages in the countryside to fish, boat, relax in saunas, and light bonfires. With a history of casting spells at Midsummer to find a spouse and increase fertility, the holiday is also a popular day for marriages to take place.
Midnight Sun Festival, Fairbanks, Alaska
Less than 150 miles south of the Arctic Circle, Fairbanks, Alaska is 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. The place with 24 hours of solstice sun has to be one of the weird facts about the earth that you never learned in school.
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 artists both local and international. According to a recent Time article, this year’s Secret Solstice will also feature a tour of an ancient lava tunnel and even an opportunity to party inside a giant glacier. If you’re more of a winter fan, don’t miss these chilling facts you never knew about the winter solstice.
Vestalia, Ancient Rome
In the gentler climate surrounding 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
Summer solstice in Guatemala is an excellent time to observe present Mayan culture as well as offering 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 during this week in June. 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 equinox.
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. If you prefer astrology over astronomy, learn what the summer solstice means for your zodiac sign.
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 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 over 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 of their neighbors in Finland and Sweden. Celebrated on the 23rd of June each year, 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 are a sign of 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. On the morning of the summer solstice, the dew drops 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 the making of wreaths. Ancient Lithuanians had their own version of the maypole, a three-branched pole whose branches represented the sun, moon, and stars. Today, according to Like a Local Guide, one of the best places in Lithuania to celebrate Joninės/Rasos is at the State Cultural Reserve of Kernavė, a UNESCO World Heritage site where one still walks through a gate to symbolize rebirth in Lithuania’s sacred ancient capital.
Celebrating Yin Forces, China
In ancient China, masculine “yang” forces and the heavens were celebrated on the winter solstice, while feminine “yin” forces and the earth were worshiped on the longest day of the year every June. To celebrate, women gave colorful fans and perfumed sachets to one another. In the south of China, the Independent describes a controversial tradition still existing 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 that of the winter. Read on to learn even more about the summer solstice with these 31 facts you never knew about the day.