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Traditions and Holidays Around the June Solstice

On June 20, 2016, many time zones in the Northern Hemisphere will usher in the first day of the summer, as the Sun reaches its northernmost position in the sky.

Illustration image
Stonehenge in England.
Stonehenge's unique stone circle was erected around 2500 BCE.
©bigstockphoto.com/dubassy

A significant turning point during the year - the days start getting shorter and the nights longer - the June Solstice is often associated with change, nature and new beginnings.

People around the world celebrate the day, which is also known as the Summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and the Winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, with feasts, bonfires, picnics, and traditional songs and dances.

An Ancient Celebration

Celebrations surrounding the June Solstice have a time-honored history. In ancient times, the date of the June Solstice was used to organize calendars and as a marker to figure out when to plant and harvest crops. Traditionally, this time of year was also popular for weddings.

Stonehenge: An Ancient Calendar Organizing System?

Some historians point to the Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England as evidence of the fact that ancient humans used the June Solstice as a way to organize their calendars. Some believe that Stonehenge's unique stone circle was erected around 2500 BCE in order to establish the date of the Summer Solstice. Viewed from its center, the Sun rises at a particular point on the horizon on day of the June Solstice. Some theories suggest that the builders of Stonehenge may have used the solstice as a starting-point to count the days of the year.

A yin and yang symbol surrounded by the Chinese zodiac pictures on a stone in the ground in Fengjing, China.
In ancient China, the Summer Solstice was associated with feminine or yin forces.
A yin and yang symbol surrounded by the Chinese zodiac pictures on a stone in the ground in Fengjing, China.
©bigstockphoto.com/90240494

Celebrating Femininity in China

In ancient China, the summer solstice was observed by a ceremony to celebrate the Earth, femininity, and the “yin” forces. It complemented the Winter Solstice that celebrated the heavens, masculinity and “yang” forces. According to Chinese tradition, the shortest shadow is found on the day of the Summer Solstice.

Midsummer Feasts

In ancient Gaul, which encompasses modern-day France and some parts of its neighboring countries, the Midsummer celebration was called Feast of Epona. The celebration was named after a mare goddess who personified fertility and protected horses. In ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes, pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires. After Christianity spread in Europe and other parts of the world, many pagan customs were incorporated into the Christian religion. In parts of Scandinavia, the Midsummer celebration continued but was observed around the time of St John’s Day, on June 24, to honor St John the Baptist instead of the pagan gods.

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Honoring the Sun

In North America, some Native American tribes held ritual dances to honor the Sun. The Sioux were known to hold one of the most spectacular rituals. Preparations for the event included cutting and raising a tree that would be considered a visible connection between the heavens and Earth, and setting up teepees in a circle to represent the cosmos. Participants abstained from food and drink during the dance itself. Their bodies were decorated in the symbolic colors of red (sunset), blue (sky), yellow (lightning), white (light), and black (night).

Midsummer maypole in Sweden.
Midsummer maypole in Sweden.
Midsummer maypole in Sweden.
©bigstockphoto.com/mikdam

Modern day celebrations

In northern European countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, Midsummer is a festive celebration. When the summer days are at their longest, and in the north it is the time of the Midnight Sun, festivals generally celebrate the summer and the fertility of the Earth. In Sweden and many parts of Finland people dance around Maypoles. Bonfires are lit and homes are decorated with flower garlands, greenery, and tree branches.

New Age and Neopagan customs

Locals celebrating Ivan Kupala Day in Tervenichi, Russia. The holiday is related to the Summer Solstice.
Ivan Kupala Day in Tervenichi, Russia.
Locals celebrating Ivan Kupala Day in Tervenichi, Russia. The holiday is related to the Summer Solstice. Many pagan rituals are incorporated into the day's events and traditions.
©bigstockphoto.com/De Visu

There are many solstice observances held by New Age and Neopagan groups throughout the world. Thousands of people, including modern-day druids and pagans, usually gather at Stonehenge for this occasion.

In some parts of the United States, events that focus on the theme of the Summer Solstice are held. These events include: local festivals featuring art or music; environmental awareness activities that focus on using natural sunlight as a source of energy; and family gatherings.

Topics: Astronomy, Calendar, Solstice, Seasons, Equinox, Sun

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Equinox & Solstice

  1. Nearly Equal Night & Day
  2. March Equinox
  3. 10 Facts: March Equinox
  4. Vernal (Spring) Equinox
  5. Customs Around March Equinox
  6. September Equinox
  7. Autumnal (Fall) Equinox
  8. Customs: September Equinox
  9. June Solstice
  10. Customs Around June Solstice
  11. Summer Solstice
  12. December Solstice
  13. Winter Solstice

Equinox & Solstice Worldwide


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