For some cultures, the day has a mystical quality. Different groups celebrate the flowering of nature for the start of summer, while others worship the sun. The Vikings and ancient Egyptians celebrated the summer solstice centuries ago. Today, it is marked in various ways in countries of the northern hemisphere.
For pagans, it marks the start of the Litha Festival, a celebration of the powers of the sun. Followers of paganism wear special clothes and garlands of flowers, which are believed to ward off evil spirits, perform special rituals and light bonfires.
In Wiltshire, England, pagans and other revelers greeted the early Tuesday sunrise at Stonehenge with flutes and wreaths.
The image of Queen Elizabeth II was projected onto Stonehenge. Cue the controversy.
The 5,000-year-old World Heritage Site is aligned with the movement of the sun, so “if you stood in the middle of the stone circle on a summer’s day, the sun would rise just to the left of the stone of the heel, a peripheral stone to the northeast of the monument,” according to English Heritage, which looks after hundreds of ancient monuments and sites.
This year’s sunrise celebrations at Stonehenge – which were also live-streamed for those unable to make the trip – were very special, as it was the first time in two years that the ancient monument lifted pandemic restrictions on public gatherings.
The crowd was diverse, according to Steven Morris, a Guardian reporter who was there. “A flowing robed Druid played a waltz on bagpipes in the dappled shade of a tree as a group of pilgrims rested on the grass making wreaths of summer flowers,” Morris wrote of from the scene. “Three Buddhist monks walked around while a group of men took off their T-shirts in the hot sun and drank lager, promising to keep partying until the sun went down and up. again.”
In France, the summer solstice coincides with a national music festival held every year since 1982. On June 21, revelers, musicians and DJs take to the streets and national monuments are transformed into concert halls. The holiday is celebrated in 120 countries, according to organizers.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Fête de la Musique, launched by Jack Lang, French Minister of Culture, to democratize access to musical performances and encourage people to discover new musical genres. The Paris Philharmonic Orchestra play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony under the Louvre pyramid, while the Eiffel Tower will host a Latin American dance festival Bachata. The organizers say more than 18,000 gigs will take place around the world.
June 21 is also International Yoga Day, celebrated in South Asia and around the world with mass yoga sessions and educational events on the benefits of the practice.
Sweden and its Nordic neighbors celebrate Midsommar, or Midsummer, the weekend between June 19 and 26. In Sweden, it is a public holiday and the start of five weeks of summer holidays for children. They mark the occasion with bonfires, picnics, flower picking and maypole dancing.
Midsummer was traditionally a celebration of love and fertility. According to ancient folklore, those who put seven or more different flowers under their pillows in midsummer would dream of their future partner. And Swedish journalist Po Tidholm told Elle magazine in 2019 that Swedes tend to drink more during the holidays than they normally would, which can lead to unexpected romantic pairings.
“That, and the romantic feel of a beautiful, long night when the sun hardly ever sets, made March 22, nine months after the summer solstice, the day most babies were born in Sweden,” Tidholm told Elle. “That’s no longer true, however, since most Swedes are pragmatic enough to plan their pregnancies in order to deliver when it suits their work schedule.”