Summer Solstice: Rituals and Traditions For The Longest Day of The Year

June 17, 2024
IONS Communications Team

Summer solstice is a pivotal time. It is the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, and it’s a time surrounded by traditions, tales, and mysticism. People all over the world celebrate summer solstice with festivals and holidays. 

In this article, we’ll have a look at different summer solstice traditions from ancient times, and some that are still alive. We’ll also share tips on how you can create your own summer solstice ritual.

Summer solstice: Quick facts

  • In 2024, the summer solstice happens on June 20.
  • The word “solstice” originates from the Latin words for sun, sol, and “to stand still”, sistere.   
  • Energetically, summer solstice represents new beginnings. It is the day when the days get shorter again after half a year of expansion. The apex between our planet’s inhale and exhale. 
  • Above the Arctic Circle, the sun stays above the horizon for 24 hours on summer solstice.
  • Culturally, summer solstice was used as a reference point for when to plant and harvest crops.
  • It was (and is) also a popular date for weddings. 

Ancient civilizations and summer solstice

Many buildings and ancient settlements, such as Stonehenge in the UK, the Karnak Temple in Egypt, and Chichen Itza in Mexico, were built to align with the equinoxes and solstices. Some believe that the builders of Stonehenge used the summer solstice as the starting date of the year. 

Were these constructions orchestrated by the ancient, hyper-intelligent civilizations that used to inhabit Earth? 

In ancient China, the summer solstice was used in celebration of the feminine: the yin, Earth, and femininity. The winter solstice was used to celebrate the masculine: the yang, heavens, and masculinity. 

In the ancient region Gaul, which today is France and some of its adjacent countries, the Midsummer celebration was called Feast of Epona. Epona is the goddess of horses and mules and symbolizes fertility. The people of Gaul made a similar connection as the Scandinavian people (to the fruitfulness of the Earth). 

The ancient Greeks saw summer solstice as the start of the new year and the indication that the much anticipated Olympic Games were only a month away.

Modern day celebrations

Sweden/Scandinavia: Midsommar

In Sweden, the holiday “Midsommar” is celebrated on the third Friday of June, which happens on or close to summer solstice. Despite its literal translation being closer to “middle of summer”, it is a celebration of the summer season’s arrival and the fertility of planet Earth. People gather outside for a buffet of traditional holiday foods like salmon, meatballs, pickled herring, boiled potatoes, and various sauces. A homemade strawberry cake is on the menu for dessert (or fresh strawberries with whipped cream). 

A tradition in Sweden and parts of Finland is the to raise the maypole, which is a pole covered with leaves and flowers. People dance in traditional costumes (in blue, yellow, and white) around the pole to folk music. Bonus points for live musicians!

Women create wraths of wild flowers. In the evening, when the sun is still high in the sky, girls pick seven different flowers to put under their pillow. Legend has it that in doing so, they’ll dream about their future partner. 

Other typical midsommar activities are playing outdoor games and drinking “snaps” (shots of a local alcoholic beverage). 

The Baltic countries

In the Baltic states, St John’s Eve (on June 23rd) is one of the main holidays of the entire year, together with Christmas. It is an occasion to connect with nature. Many people travel to the countryside. They make bonfires and stay up the whole night dancing, singing, and drinking. 

In all of the Baltic countries, there’s also a ritual involving jumping over a fire. The exact meaning assigned varies between the three countries, but it is thought to release people of their burdens and bring good fortune.

And if you travel to the Baltic for summer solstice, don’t sleep in: the morning after the festivities, on St John’s Day, people wake up at dawn to walk through the morning dew, which is believed to have magical properties.

Pagan traditions 

Bonfires are an element from pagan traditions that Germanic, Slav, and Celtic tribes incorporate in their celebrations. The fires were said to honor the space between the Earth and the heavens. 

Another tradition this time of the year was to set large wheels on fire and let them roll down a hill into a body of water. This could be seen as a way to create harmony between fire and water. Energetically, the fire represents the masculine and the water the feminine. Could these traditions, therefore, be interpreted the masculine surrendering to the feminine? 

How you can celebrate the summer solstice

Regardless of your background and beliefs, summer solstice is a time charged with celebration and transformation. It can be a great occasion to start your own ritual. Connecting to the holidays of nature, on top of our religious and commercial holidays, is a way of developing a connection to your essence. 

Summer solstice is a time of change: six months of expansion shift into six months of contraction, as the days once again get shorter. In the spirit of as above, so below, you can leverage these energies for your own rituals related to change:

  • You can journal around what you are releasing from your life, emotionally, mentally, and physically. From this new, cleansed space, you can set intentions for the coming 6 months. A little like a New Year’s ceremony almost halfway through the Gregorian year!
  • You could also do a cleanse in your home and throw away or donate things you no longer need, to create space for what’s to come.
  • Some people choose to cleanse their bodies by doing a detox or fast over a few days around the solstices.
  • Another idea is to connect to the abundant light of this particular day. Meditate on the light, and see it infuse any area of your life where you need to release fear or shadows. Feel yourself rejuvenated. Then, intend for the light to flow into the lives of all beings, visualize a happy and healthy humanity.

Which one of these are you choosing for the longest day of the year? 

Summer solstice: Old traditions get new life?

As humanity as a whole longs for connection, to each other and nature, it may be time to awaken some of these dormant traditions. Acknowledging and celebrating the holidays of nature is one small step in getting closer to living in harmony with nature and enjoying its healing powers.

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