In many countries in the Northern Hemisphere, summer is officially marked by the occurrence of the Summer Solstice, which is the longest day of the year. Although the actual dates vary between cultures, it typically occurs in the third week of June, around June 20th to the 24th.
In Northern Europe, where it is the second most celebrated holiday apart from Christmas, the solstice originated as an indigenous festival. Although the solstice marks the start of astronomical summer, in most traditions it is marks midsummer, or the start of the warmest months. After the medieval period, it became related to the feast day of St. John the Baptist in countries that are predominantly Christian.
Like any major holiday, various festivities take place during the solstice that are unique to each region and country. Similarly, in other parts of the world, many countries also have festivals during this time, which celebrate the start of the new season with their own cultural practices.
The summer solstice is a widely celebrated holiday throughout the countries in Scandinavia. Each country has its own festivities, but there are a few commonalities in the celebrations. For instance, the lighting of bonfires is a common festivity, which in ancient times were believed to ward off evil spirits that roamed the earth when the sun faced southward.
Image from Study in Sweden
Maypole dancing is a popular festivity in these northern regions, perhaps in Sweden more than the other countries. Maypoles are part of the old traditions and folklore of Scandinavia and other Germanic regions (Such as Norse mythology, where the universe is believed to be a giant tree), and usually children take part in the dances.
Quebec – St. Jean
People take to the streets during the St. Jean Baptiste Festival.
Image from The Long Habit of Living.
In the French Canadian region, the holiday is celebrated in line with the feast day of St. John the Baptist, brought over by the French Colonists. Today it is celebrated as a secular National Holiday, taking place on June 24th. Similar to the practices in Scandinavia, lighting bonfires is part of the traditional celebrations on the eve of June 24th.
San Juan Town Festival
Image from Pilipinas Travel Guide
On the other side of the world, in a city in the capital region of the Philippines, the midsummer tradition that is quite literally the opposite from the European ones. Instead of lighting great fires, people douse each other with water, splashing about the streets of the city of San Juan in Manila. During this day people take to the streets armed with buckets of water and hoses, leaving no shirt dry. It relates to the Roman Catholic tradition of baptism, and the feast of St. John the Baptist.
Duan Wu (Chinese Dragon Boat)
Image from Sarah Sanderson Wanderlust
In China, the midsummer season and summer solstice is celebrated with the racing of dragon boats. In chinese mythology, the dragon represents masculine energy, just as the sun does. Since the solstice is considered the peak time of year for masculine energy, the dragon consequently became associated with the festival. Apart from the tradition of racing the boats, rituals are performed that are said to promote health and vitality as well.
For many others however, the summer solstice is simply an opportunity to enjoy the day longer than usual. Whether you celebrate the solstice or not, its passing heralds the warmest months of the year, and hopefully a fun-filled season for us all. Happy Summer everyone!