In the Northern Hemisphere it’s the longest day of the year and for this reason is often celebrated as a day of the sun. Conversely of course it’s the shortest day of the year in the Southern hemisphere.
Because the sun stretches on into the night on this day it’s often taken to be a festival or celebration of all that regards the night time and
This year it falls on June 21st although it doesn’t always fall on the same day because of the Gregorian Calendar’s losing or gaining a day every 4 years (which is why we have Leap Years).
The sun will rise at 4.43am GMT and set at 9.21pm meaning we will have 16 hours and 38 minutes of sunlight in most of Europe. Plenty of time to have a party eh?
These are some of the Summer Solstice traditions from around the world.
Denmark where they burn the witches In Denmark an ancient tradition that yields some spectacular photo ops every year is the custom of burning an effigy of a witch over an enormous bonfire. The belief falls in line with a lot of similar beliefs across northern and eastern Europe, that holds that as the sun begins to turn south it unleashes all manner of dark mythical creatures. According to Danish folklore on the summer solstice witches convene around the Brocken Mountains, and the effigy serves to keep them away from normal people.
Slavic and Balkan Bonfires The summer solstice has a lot to do with harvest season, and part of the customs are about bringing a good harvest and ensuring that spirits that interfere with crops stay away. Across countries like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in Northern Europe huge bonfires are built and there’s a custom of jumping over them for good luck. In Bulgaria where the Julian calendar is followed in some parts, the solstice takes place on the 24th and involves dancing across embers to ward off evil spirits.
Swedish Midsommer Probably the most famous summer solstice celebration is the Swedish tradition of Midsommer. This is festivity around fecundity and fertility, both in the earth by was of harvest season, but also in that it’s celebrated as a time when people meet their husband or wife. Traditional clothes are worn, herbs and flowers are picked and hung around the house, dancing around a maypole is traditional, and pretty intensive vodka drinking is also a must!
Spain and Portugal’s St John’s Festival In Christian tradition the summer solstice is celebrated mainly because it’s the birth of St John the Baptist. In Portugal it is celebrated as the Noite de Sao Joao and involves parades and the beginning of what is known as the festival of Santos which sees old neighbourhoods decorated.
Regardless of where it happens the solstice marks an important moment in the calendar, one of change, new life, and often a celebration of folkloric nocturnal spirits that often involves some form of debauchery! In some traditions it’s believed that seeing the sunrise is an important part of that.