With Spring emerging back in the Homeland, many Brits are beginning to dream of the sunshine and smiles that Summer brings. Although an ice cream, BBQ and a game of footy might be the UKs favourite way of welcoming the summer, around the world there are some interesting and unique ways people celebrate the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere
Summer Solstice, falling on June 21st in the Northern Hemisphere, marks the longest day of the year, and many countries are preparing for a big celebrations. Estonia, Latvia, Sweden and Finland all take Midsummer very seriously. They even go as far as taking a national holiday for it each year. Meanwhile, Portugal marks the date with a giant street party and some strange ‘good luck’ rituals…
The origins of these festivities mostly come from either Pagan and Christian roots, or a mixture of the two. There are similar elements shared between the different celebrations such as bonfires, dancing and using water for symbolic purification. Here are my favourites:
1. Build a bonfire to burn a witch
This is a recurring feature in almost all celebrations. The central belief is that the fire wards away evil spirits who roam freely as the sun turns south. Estonia and Latvia believe that mischievous spirits who ruin the harvest are scared by the fire so the bigger the fire, the further away the spirits keep and hence the better the harvest.
In a similar vein, many customs also include burning a witch figure on top of the fire, usually made from straw and cloth, as it is believed that witches convene on solstice night. The Danes believe that this meeting occurs on Bloksbjerg, the Brocken mountain, and that burning ‘sends the witch away’.
Jumping over the bonfire is a popular tradition in places such as Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia and Spain. In Spain they shout ‘meigas!‘ meaning ‘witches off’ to bring prosperity.
Celebrations are held on Casper Mountain in Wyoming, USA, around a bonfire where revellers are welcomed to throw a handful of red soil into the fire to grant a wish.
Estonians believe that not lighting a fire invites fire into the home, causing devastation.
Bulgaria has its own version of jumping over the fire with their Enyovden celebration (taking place on 24th June), which they believe marks the start of winter. Participants join a fire ritual involving dancing on smouldering embers, called Nestinarstvo.
2. Collect herbs and dance the quadrilha
These traditions stem from ideas of fertility and finding a husband or wife. Collecting summer flowers and herbs on the solstice evening, which are believed to have potent medicinal properties, such as St John’s Wort, were common activities. These bunches were hung in doorways or left in water overnight to wash with the following morning. In Norway and Sweden they believe that flowers placed under the pillow of a young girl will make her dream of her future love that night.
It is believed that anyone seeing the sun rise will be healthy throughout the year. Due to the belief that medical and magical herbs have more potency before dawn, women–sorceresses and enchantresses go to gather herbs by sunrise to cure and make charms.
In Romania they dance the Drăgaica where five to seven young girls dance around one dressed as a young bride.
3. Join the Saint John’s Festivals
One of the main reasons behind the celebration is the Christian marking of Saint John the Baptist’s birth. It comes under many different names such assankthansaften in Denmark, Jaanipäev in Estonia and noite de São João in Portugal. One of the only saint’s days to celebrate the birth of a saint, rather than the death, it is dated thus due to the Gospel of Luke in the Bible stating St John’s birthday to be six months before Jesus’.
Brazil’s Festa Junina is a huge celebration in which regions compete for the biggest parties. Although it does not celebrate the Summer Solstice (as it’s their shortest day of the year), they will also celebrate the birth of St John. It includes all of the bonfire, dancing and flower collecting traditions of solstice celebrations in the Northern Hemisphere but they also erect a pau-de-sebo maypole and celebrate marital union. The celebrations usually take place in a thatched-roof tent called an arraial.Men dress up as farm boys with large straw hats and women wear pigtails, freckles, painted gap teeth and red-checkered dresses, all in a loving tribute to the origins of Brazilian country music and their family beginnings.
Similarly, Portugal holds a street party with balloons and brightly coloured paper decorations. Strangely, they also bang each other over the head with rubber hammers for good luck.
In Russia and Ukraine revellers make wreaths of flowers and throw them into the water, attempting to tell their futures from the wreath’s movements.
4. Practice some ancient rituals
Celebrate New Years with the Aymara people or join the new-age druids at Stonehenge.
The ‘Gate of the Sun’ is a pre-Columbian stone monolith in Bolivia, South America. Located near Lake Titicaca it has engravings of religious symbols and Gods from the Tiwanaku culture from over 1,500 years ago. One of these engravings depicts what is thought to be a sun god due to the emanating rays around him but it could also be the Inca god Viracocha, the creator.
There is mystery as the specific origins and cultures surrounding the two religious sites. Contemporary visitors develop their own rituals based around the same principles of water, fire and celebration of nature as the Christian customs.
5. Go on a micro-adventure
If these weird and wonderful rituals don’t float your boat, it’s still a great excuse to get outdoors. Why not enjoy the lightest and shortest night by going wild camping? Or venture into your local woods and admire nature?
You don’t always have to go far for adventure, sometimes the most exciting places and experiences can be right on your doorstep! Hiking, kayaking, picnicking, simply drinking in the view, whatever your fancy, consider filming the excursion to document your micro-adventure.