Early dawns, long days, late sunsets and short nights. The summer solstice has captivated the curiosity and imagination of cultures for centuries.
Scientifically, the solstice marks the year’s longest period of daylight in the Northern Hemisphere, when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky. The romantic allure of this “longest day” has served as the backdrop to great classical works like William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” and has inspired garden party celebrations around the globe.
Major transitions in nature like the summer solstice routinely ignite human emotions and creativity. From monuments at Stonehenge in England to Karnak in Egypt, people around the world have taken note of the sun’s northern and southern travels for more than 5,000 years. At Stonehenge’s circle of unique rock formations, the sun will rise directly over an ancient avenue leading away to the northeast on the summer solstice. Little is known about the culture that built Stonehenge, but its alignment with both solstices and its history as a burial ground suggests a mystical or religious significance for the holiday.
In Shakespeare’s time, the summer solstice was called Midsummer’s Eve, and Elizabethan people believed it was a time of mystery and magic. It was thought to be a spiritual day when young people would meet the person they were destined to marry.
Evil spirits were also afoot on the solstice, prompting participants to adorn protective garlands of herbs and flowers around their head. The glowing light of bonfires served as a shield to negative energy and was thought to boost the sun’s energy for the rest of the growing season, securing a strong crop for the fall.
Northern European countries mark the day with maypole and folk dances accompanied by traditional foods like pickled herring, salmon and potatoes. Midsummer is Scandinavia’s most popular seasonal festival after Christmas, and is even recognized as a national holiday in Sweden. Homes are adorned with wreaths and other greenery to welcome the prosperous season.
You can harness the mystique of the solstice this year on June 21. Embrace the good energy that comes with the summer alongside friends at an intimate garden gathering, or use the plentiful sunshine to seek out a new adventure on your own. Whatever you choose, let the growth and renewal of the day shape your outlook for the season ahead.