This year, the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere will be on Saturday, 20 June and it has traditionally been a day of celebration for many cultures across the world.
The Summer Solstice marks the longest day of the year, where we receive more daylight than any other day of the year. “Solstice” comes from the Latin “sol” and “stitium” referring to the stillness or stopping of the sun. The ancients noticed that as Summer progressed, the sun stopped moving northward in the sky, then begin southward again as Summer turned to Autumn.
How will you celebrate?
Also called midsummer, it has long been seen as signifying growth and life and recognised as a special event. It’s possible one of the reasons it has historically been a time of celebration and joy is because of the sheer amount of sunlight received. As we know today, vitamin D from sunlight benefits our mood, immune system, bones, and heart. No wonder many cultures developed celebrations and rituals to coincide with it.
If you are looking for some ideas on how to celebrate the Summer Solstice, here are some of the rituals and celebrations practiced by ancient cultures around the globe that you may want to try.
The ancient Chinese honoured the yin, the feminine energy, on the Summer Solstice, and the yang, masculine energy on the winter Solstice. The Chinese believed that throughout the year, the powers of yin and yang waxed and waned in reverse proportion to each other.
At the Summer Solstice, the influence of yang was at its height, however the celebrations focused on the impending switch to yin that would follow. At the winter Solstice, the opposite switch to yang was celebrated.
In ancient Greece, the festival of Kronia honoured the god of agriculture, Cronus, and it often coincided with the Solstice. The Solstice festival marked a time of social equality. During the celebrations, slaves were given equal rights to their owners, who allowed them to participate in games and festivities, sometimes even reversing roles and serving them.
The Summer Solstice also marked the start of a new year in ancient Greece, and this began the month-long countdown to the Olympics.
In ancient Rome, midsummer tended to coincide with the festival of Vestalia, which honoured Vesta, the goddess of the hearth. Vesta was the protector of married women and guarded virginity. She was considered the patron of the domestic sphere and was exclusively a goddess for women.
On the first day of this festival, married women could enter the temple of the Vestal Virgins, from which they were barred the rest of the year. They brought offerings to the temple hoping the goddess would bestow blessings upon their families.
During Vestalia, women would bake a sacred cake following a strict recipe. Water from a sacred spring had to be used, it was carried in blessed jugs and prevented from coming into contact with the ground.
The ancient Egyptians most famous and striking monuments were aligned with the Summer Solstice. When viewed from the Sphinx, the sun sets exactly between two of the Great Pyramids on the Summer Solstice. They also built a temple to Osiris that is illuminated by the setting sun on the Solstice.
The Summer Solstice also marked the start of a new year in Egypt. Sirius, the brightest star came into the sky at this time and shortly after, the Nile would flood its banks, bringing about a season of abundance from the land. The Egyptians believed Sirius was responsible for the floods and abundance and so celebrated this time.
Ancient Mayans are also thought to have celebrated the Solstice. In a long-buried Mayan city in Guatemala, archaeologists have discovered the remains of an astronomical observatory built between 600 BC and 300 BC. The buildings in this city were designed to align with the sun during the Solstices.
During such times, it is thought the city's populace gathered at the observatory and would have been able to see the sun rising in line with building structure. They would watch as their king appeared to command the heavens.
Mayans from Mexico also constructed buildings which appeared to be based on the Solstice. Kukulcan was the Mayan god of rejuvenation. At the Temple of Kukulcan in Tulum, one side is completely illuminated by the sun during the Solstice, while the other is completely dark. It is suggested that Mayan’s used the Solstice to mark significant times for their food cycle.
In ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes, pagans celebrated midsummer with bonfires. In the UK, Stonehenge is often associated with Paganism and the Summer Solstice. Constructed between 3000 and 2000 BC, the site remains somewhat a mystery, however during the Summer Solstice, people from all over the country came on pilgrimages to celebrate.
Viewed from the centre of Stonehenge, the sun rises at a particular point on the horizon on day of the Solstice and the sunset aligns with the heel stone of the monument and continue to shine through the other stones. It is thought this also marked the start of a new year.
Modern Day Celebrations
Midsummer is still a festive celebration today. In northern European countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, festivals generally celebrate the Summer and the fertility of the Earth. People dance around Maypoles. Bonfires are lit and homes are decorated with flower garlands, greenery, and tree branches.
In the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, midsummer is an occasion to travel to the countryside and connect with nature. Many people light bonfires and stay up all night drinking, singing, and dancing. In Fairbanks Alaska, the sun is out for almost 24 hours a day, so they celebrate with the Midnight Sun Game, an amateur baseball game starts at 10:30 pm through to 1:30 am.
Whatever you choose to do to celebrate the Summer Solstice this year, we hope it is a time of renewal, of joy and happiness, admiration for humanity, and maybe even a little sun – if we are lucky!