For some cultures, the day has a mystical quality to it. Different groups celebrate nature blooming for the start of summer, while others worship the sun. Vikings and ancient Egyptians celebrated the summer solstice centuries ago. Today, it’s marked in a variety of ways in countries of the Northern Hemisphere.
For pagans, it marks the start of the Festival of Litha, a celebration of the sun’s powers. Followers of paganism don special attire and flower garlands, which are believed to repel evil spirits, hold special rituals and start bonfires.
In Wiltshire, England, pagans and other revelers welcomed the early sunrise Tuesday at Stonehenge with flutes and flower crowns.
Queen Elizabeth II’s image was projected onto Stonehenge. Cue the controversy.
The 5,000-year-old World Heritage Site is aligned with the sun’s movement, so that “if you were to stand in the middle of the stone circle on midsummer’s day, the sun rises just to the left of the Heel Stone, an outlying stone to the north-east of the monument,” according to English Heritage, which looks after hundreds of ancient monuments and sites.
This year, the celebrations of sunrise at Stonehenge — which were also streamed live for those who couldn’t make the trip — were extra special, because 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 reporter for the Guardian who was there. “A druid in flowing robes played a waltz on the bagpipes in the dappled shade of a tree as a band of pilgrims rested on the grass making crowns of summer flowers,” Morris wrote of the scene. “Three Buddhist monks strolled past while a group of men took off their T-shirts in the warm sunshine and drank lager, promising to carry on partying until the sun sets and rises again.”
In France, the summer solstice coincides with a national celebration of music held yearly since 1982. On June 21, partygoers, musicians and DJs take to the streets, and national monuments transform into concert venues. The holiday is celebrated in 120 countries, according to the organizers.
This year is the 40th anniversary of Music Day, which was started by Jack Lang, France’s culture minister, to democratize access to musical performances and encourage people to discover new musical genres. The Paris Philharmonic Orchestra will play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony under the Louvre pyramid, while the Eiffel Tower will host a festival of the Latin American dance Bachata. Organizers say more than 18,000 concerts will be held worldwide.
June 21 is also the International Day of Yoga, celebrated in South Asia and around the world with mass yoga sessions and educational events about the benefits of the practice.
Sweden and its Nordic neighbors celebrate midsommar, or Midsummer, on the weekend between June 19 and 26. In Sweden, it is an official 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 holiday of love and fertility. According to ancient folklore, those who put at least seven different flowers under their pillows on 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 holiday than they normally would — which can lead to unexpected romantic pairings.
“That, and the romantic feel of a beautiful and long night when the sun almost doesn’t set, used to make March 22, nine months after Midsummer, the day when the most babies were born in Sweden,” Tidholm told Elle. “That’s not true anymore, though, since most Swedes are pragmatic enough to plan their pregnancies in order to give birth when it suits their work schedule.”