Summer Solstice… This mid-year nature event is infused with mystery and wonder. And it’s more than the effect of Shakespeare’s faerie spectacle or Woody Allen’s comedy of sex errors. We feel this ancient sense of delicious delight and mystery deserves to be celebrated in ways that make this longest day start to summer — or longest night winter kickoff, depending on where you live — even more of a dream.
If you want to get all technical about it, Summer Solstice is that one day of the year — usually between June 20th to June 22nd — when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere. Fun little tidbit — hence the nod to longest night winter kickoff location above — in the Southern Hemisphere, that same time of year is when the sun is FURTHEST away from the South Pole and starts that region’s Winter Solstice.
This phenomenon has been celebrated since antiquity. The word “solstice” comes from the Latin “sol” for sun and “stitium” for “still” or “stopped.” For those of us in the Northern part of the world — and, no, that doesn’t mean, like Canada compared to Florida, but anything above the earth’s imaginary belt called the equator — Summer Solstice marks the beginning of the world’s tilt from long days to long nights. It’s the apex, as they say, of daylight before blissfully and naturally switching sides from sun dominant to moon dominant.
The incredible meaning placed upon this magical time of year appears to come from what it signaled for ancient cultures — if autumn was the time to reap then summer was the time to sow. The ancient Greek calendars considered Summer Solstice the New Year and they celebrated Cronus, the god of agriculture while preparing for the upcoming Olympic games. Ancient Romans paid homage to the goddess, Vesta — goddess of the hearth — with Vestalia when married women were allowed to enter the Temple of Vesta to leave offerings to receive blessings for their families.
Many architectural wonders — the Sphinx, Stonehenge, the Great Pyramids of Khafre and Khufu, the Bighorn Medicine Wheel — are believed to have been built specifically to embrace and celebrate this day of the year. With all of that mythical mastery, we looked into ways we, too, could embrace this day to fully get that feeling of magic to carry us through to the Winter Solstice in December in the Northern Hemisphere — and the Summer Solstice in that same month down south.
Without further ado, we present five wondrous and magical ways to embrace your inner Druid, Witch, Faerie, and Wiccan and give into the dream of Summer Solstice.
Get out those garlands of herbs and flowers!
In pagan history, this time of year is an invitation to evil spirits to come on, hang out, make yourself at home on planet earth. To protect against this, people don garlands of herbs and flowers. The most popular of these was known as “chasing the devil” now more commonly St. John’s Wort — so-called because it blossoms and is harvested close to St. John Feast Day on June 24th, the Christian celebration of John the Baptist. If you’re looking for good traditional wreaths, they’ll include summer blooming flowers and herbs you can place on your head, your hearth, your door to welcome the longest day.
For it’s one ayem and the sun is still out at the old ballgame!
The Midnight Sun Festival in Fairbanks, Alaska, is legendary. It takes place on the nearest Sunday to Summer Solstice and goes for 12 hours of food, music and all-out street fair celebration. Not once during the festival is one streetlight, klieg, searchlight, or candle even lit. After all, Alaska is the state of the Midnight Sun and on Summer Solstice, the sun stays up for 24 hours. The Alaska Baseball League’s Alaska Goldpanners play host to a daylit night game that starts at around 10:30 p.m. and goes until around 1:30 a.m. “Hey, batter, batter, batter! Sun-GLASSES, batter!”
I see fire…
Bonfires are big (no pun intended) in Summer Solstice celebrations. The belief was that these large blazes burn away bad spirits and spreading the ashes on the newly planted fields promotes a bountiful harvest. Of course, back in the day these infernos included gathering with like-minded pagans, chanting while dancing naked, things like that, but nowadays you can just find a great firepit, get a bonfire going, have a bunch of friends over, roast marshmallows or something while dancing naked in front of the flames. Tradition!
We personally dream of doing a real deal Stonehenge pilgrimage to this five millennia plus edifice with all those others on Summer Solstice. It took one thousand years to drag the giant 50 ton stone pieces 20 miles from Marlborough Downs to Stonehenge, as well as the smaller bluestone pillars from Prescelly in South Wales, which is 100 miles away. This is back when wheeled vehicles were nonexistent and with how the historic site is built it appears to all have been done as a way to honor both Summer and Winter Solstice. It is now a park and people from all over the world gather overnight on both times of year to watch as white clothed druids welcome the sun and celebrate the opening of each season. Ultimate solstice bucket list.
Summer where it’s winter
While all of your friends and family are laying out, basking in the sun of the longest day, you can bundle up in the Southern Hemisphere for the longest night. Why not embrace the memory of the Incans and check out Peru to celebrate Inti Raymi? This Festival of the Sun marks the start of the country’s winter and takes place at the ancient ruins of Cuzco where actors don Incan tunics and grand banquets are held to worship the sun god as their winter begins. Or go skiing in New Zealand at the Real Journeys Queenstown Winter Festival and share a toast in celebration of Matariki, the Maori New Year on June 24th. Then come back North, strip off your parka and jump in the pool. Best of both worlds.
That yet we sleep, we dream...
The Northern Hemisphere’s Summer Solstice is a celebration of folly and mystery. The dreams we dream leading up to and on that day feel more whimsical, somehow, as if the sun creating the longest day fills our nights with glowing, dewy visions of magic. Known as Midsummer, it’s no surprise good ol’ Willie S. created his faerie-themed play around it. And so, we hope you walk away from all of this happily armed with ways to celebrate and embrace the sparkling delight and frivolity of this day. However…
-- Robin “Puck” Goodfellow, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
May all your Midsummer Night’s Dreams be thoroughly magical and come blissfully true.