Summer solstice, or Midsummer’s Day, is June 21. It’s the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere when we enjoy the most sunlight and the shortest night.
The sun rises to its maximum height, bathing the Arctic Circle – including parts of Sweden, Finland, Norway, and all of Iceland – in twenty-four hours of daylight. Ancient monuments – including Stonehenge, England; Callanish, Scotland; Macchu Picchu, Peru; Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico; and Monk’s Mound in southern Illinois – align with the sun. And people around the world celebrate.
How did people historically celebrate the solstice?
Bonfires. In several countries, including Germany, bonfires were offered to the sun to promote fertility and bring bountiful harvests. Men would leap the flames and run across the embers when the fire died down.
Staying awake. People in Japan, Britain, and Norway stayed awake until midnight or throughout the shortest night of the year to welcome the longest day at dawn. According to a British folk tale, spirits of those who would die the next year roamed on this night. Thus, people stayed awake to keep their spirits from wandering.
Sun Dances. The Native American plains tribes, including the Arapahoe, Sioux, Ute, and Blackfoot tribes, threw elaborate religious ceremonies around the time of the solstice. The celebrations lasted from four to eight days. Many honored the buffalo and included singing, drumming, and dancing, and often fasting, prayer, visions, and acts of self-torture.
Gathering plants. In Denmark, women gathered herbs on the solstice, including St. John’s Wort, which got its name because it flowers around the time of St. John’s Day (June 24). If St. John’s Wort was picked and dried at Midsummer, it was said to chase away the winter blues when ingested later in the year.
St. John’s Eve festivals. Many countries, including Italy, Lithuania, Latvia, Norway, Finland, and Sweden have traditionally celebrated Midsummer two days after the solstice on St. John’s Eve. Near Helsinki, Finland, modern people gather on this day to watch Finnish folk dances, listen to traditional songs, light bonfires, and participate in rowing races.
What are the benefits of celebrating the first day of each season?
Seasonal celebrations give you and your family the opportunity to:
- Note the cyclical changes in the soil, sky, trees, plants, and wildlife.
- Reflect on the uniqueness of each season.
- Reflect on the lessons each season imparts. The bounties of summer are endless – light, warmth, and lush crops. Nature is at her peak, but the solstice also brings the returning darkness.
- Read about different celebrations around the world.
- Celebrate! Seasonal celebrations are affordable, nature-based, and as easy or elaborate as you want them to be.
Create some summer traditions this year!
The first day of summer is a great time to start some new family traditions. Pick activities that you’ll want to do year after year, and ones that will make the day relaxing and special for you and your family. Here are a few ideas:
1. Establish a table-top, shelf, or mantel to display seasonal items. On the first day of summer, replace the spring decorations with seashells, sand dollars, flowers, a baseball, photographs from summer trips, or whatever symbolizes summer in your family.
2. Collect books about the seasons. Choose a special basket or shelf for them, and change them out on the first day of each season. Some classic picture books about summer include:
- Mama, Is It Summer Yet? by Nikki McClure
- Boris Goes Camping by Carrie Weston
- The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant
- Before the Storm by Jan Yolen
- Summertime Waltz by Nina Payne
- Canoe Days by Gary Paulsen
- Sun Dance Water Dance by Jonathan London
- Summer is Summer by Phillis and David Gershator
- Under Alaska’s Midnight Sun by Deb Venasse.
3. Place a bouquet of roses, lilies, or daisies in your family members’ bedrooms while they sleep, so they wake up to fresh summer flowers.
4. Find a special place outside to observe the sunrise and sunset. You can find out what time the sun will rise and set where you live here.
5. Eat breakfast outside after the sun rises.
6. Go on a nature hike. Bring along guidebooks to help you identify birds, butterflies, mushrooms, or wildflowers.
7. Gather plants. Traditionally Europeans harvested Saint John’s Wort on the first day of summer, dried it, and made it into a tea on the first day of winter. The tea is a traditional remedy for seasonal depression, and it’s said to bring the summer sunshine into the dark winter days. It’s a weedy plant and you can probably find some growing in a sunny open area near you. Find out more here.
8. Visit a U-pick farm to harvest strawberries, snap peas, or whatever’s in season where you live. Find a nearby “pick your own” farm here.
9. Make a summer feast. Eat exclusively from your garden or the farmer’s market to celebrate the bounties of summer in your area.
10. Host a “locavore” potluck.
11. Turn off all the indoor lights, light candles, and eat dinner outside.
12. Play outside, watercolor, or decorate the sidewalks with chalk until the sun sets.
Or create your own traditions to welcome summer this June 21. Hopefully you’ll be celebrating for years to come.
If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy these related posts:
- Slow Summer Living
- Why You Should Sync Your Schedule With the Seasons
- Local, Seasonal Foods are Superfoods
- Dandelions are Superfoods
- Just One Small Change
- Living Local
Do you celebrate the summer solstice? I’d love to hear how your family celebrates!
[Editor’s note: This is a refreshed and revamped version of a post originally published on June 15, 2009.]