Summer Solstice is the first day of astronomical summer in the Earth’s Northern Hemisphere, the longest day and shortest night of the year. Though many of us let summer solstice pass without mention, for some, this means the chance to revel in local tradition and history and celebrate a truly magical experience. With summer on hold for most of us this year, here are ten summer solstice celebrations we can marvel in and maybe be part of one day!
1. Solsticefest – Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England
Though shrouded in mystery, England’s famous prehistoric monument provides the perfect backdrop for a solstice celebration. Every year, visitors from around the world gather at Stonehenge overnight to watch the sunrise above the Heel Stone and shine into the centre of the ring of standing stones on the longest day of the year, 21st June. This special moment is particularly important for the druid and pagan community; at the ritual, white-cloaked and hooded druids tap the Heel Stone and sing in the first rays of sunlight. Though unknown, experts are almost certain that the monument was strategically placed to showcase the solstices twice a year. You can stream this year’s summer solstice live from Stonehenge. Link to live stream
2. Sant Joan – Barcelona, Spain
Every year, over the 23rd and 24th June, Barcelona becomes an array of bright and exuberant chaos for the night of Sant Joan, also known as the Feast of Saint John. This marks the summer solstice and the birth date of Saint John the Baptist in the Christian faith as in the Catalan calendar. The idea is that on the night of Sant Joan, the sun reaches the highest point, before beginning to drop. The sun, as a symbol of fertility and wealth, must, therefore, be given strength. This is done through the Nit de Foc (night of fire); around fifty bonfires are set alight throughout the city, accompanied by endless fireworks. The joyous atmosphere is heightened by parties on the beaches and fires in the streets.
3. Midsummer – Tyrol, Austria
Austria’s celebration in mountainous Tyrol goes all the way back to the Middle Ages when tribes of that time believed that fire warded off evil spirits and was a symbol of appreciation towards the earth. For centuries, locals have thus created massive bonfires atop many of the mountains. As the sky goes dark on the longest day of the year, these bonfires are set alight, turning the mountaintops into beacons, casting a breathtaking mystical effect across the whole region. Some spots are particularly magical, for example, in the Zugspitze area, the valleys are illuminated by around 8000 small fires. The bonfires are often accompanied by live music, feasts, and drink at surrounding locations.
4. Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival – Ottawa, Canada
Fusing together the longest day of the year with Canada’s Indigenous People’s Day, Ottawa’s three-day Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival is a magnificent celebration of culture. Before Queen Victoria declared Ottawa Canada’s capital in 1857, the area was the traditional territory of the Algonquin people. The festival boasts food by celebrated indigenous chefs, traditional costumes, and cultural events, with language workshops, traditional games, artwork contests, and storytelling. There is also a visually stimulating Pow Wow competition presenting the best talent from surrounding areas. This year, the entire event is going online with a virtual indigenous marketplace, live stream concerts, and an online Pow Wow competition.
5. Midsummer Day – Sweden
Sweden’s summer solstice is a big deal, with Midsummer Day being the country’s most popular holiday, after Christmas. According to Swedish tradition, since Midsummer Night is the brightest night of the year, it is considered perfect for telling people’s futures. It is also believed that if you place seven types of flowers under your pillow at midsummer, you will dream of your spouse. The surrounding weekend is full of flower crowns, leafy maypole dancing, eating pickled herring and boiled potatoes, drinking schnapps, and singing songs – a never-ending party! It is very family- and countryside-orientated.
6. Secret Solstice Festival – Reykjavik, Iceland
Going way back to the Norse nations, believers of natural symbolism, the solstice has been a time of celebration for the people of Iceland. Taking full advantage of the midnight sun and ninety-six hours of consecutive sunlight (the sun sets at midnight and rises at 3 am), the Secret Solstice Festival is a three-day music blowout, full of both local favourites and big industry names from around the world. The festival also makes use of Iceland’s natural phenomena, hosting acts in a lava cave and a party in Langjökull, Europe’s second-largest glacier, where the sounds bounce off the crystals creating an unparallel and captivating experience, although the event is cancelled this year.
7. White Nights Festival – St. Petersburg, Russia
After a long and dark winter, in St. Petersburg, Russia, the summer solstice is a joyous and long-lasting celebration of summer! Usually beginning in May and ending in July, the annual White Nights festival brings the city alive with two months of calendared events, often free, including classical ballets, opera performances, carnivals, and music performances by famous acts. The Scarlet Sails show, a beautiful display of ships and fireworks, is the festival highlight and happens closest to the summer solstice.
8. Midnight Sun Festival – Fairbanks, Alaska, USA
At only 140 miles south of the Arctic Circle, those in Fairbanks, Alaska, are blessed with the ‘midnight sun’. Every year, on the Sunday closest, to 21st June, the Midnight Sun Festival puts on a twelve-hour street fair and an array of live music over three stages. In addition to this, on the longest day of the year, in a full American style, you can watch the Midnight Sun Baseball Game, a tradition since the town’s beginnings. With the first pitch at about 10:30 pm, the game goes right through midnight, only pausing close to midnight for the singing of the Alaska Flag Song, however, this year the event is cancelled.
9. Juhannus – Finland
In Finland, the summer solstice is one of the biggest parties of the year. Juhannus is Finnish for Johannes, referencing the same Saint John who is celebrated in Spain. In the early 1300s, the Catholic Church melded Saint John onto the god Ukko, who had been the focus of previous Pagan solstice rites. Bonfires are lit all over the lake-filled country and people get very drunk, often swimming between islands! In Helsinki, the biggest bonfire is on the island, Seurasaari, reachable by a pedestrian crossing. Many Finns leave the cities for Midsummer and spend time in the countryside.
10. Astrofest – Istria, Croatia
Held near the famous observatory in Višnjan, locals, and visitors to Croatia celebrate the summer solstice with a combination of ancient traditions and modern science. The event includes stargazing, bonfires, and digeridoo-woven live music. The night is associated with a number of customs and legends particularly important for the continent’s ancient peoples, and solstice storytelling brings mystical creatures to life to the sounds of drum circles. In honour of the ancient civilisations of the Northern Hemisphere who once considered the sun a symbol of life, Astrofest visitors have a long night ahead, watching the sunset and staying awake to await its rise in the morning, celebrating the shortest night of the year.
The summer solstice is one of the most celebrated events in Europe and beyond, a truly breathtaking experience. Though our summer plans may be put on hold this year, these festivities would make a great trip in the future and be part of the centuries-old tradition!