The summer solstice, or midsummer, is a special day that occurs twice yearly (once in the Northern hemisphere and once in the Southern). It is the only day where the Earth's poles tilt at the maximum angle towards the sun and therefore produces the longest day of sunlight.
Because of the special nature of this day, cultures all over the world celebrate it for various reasons, whether it be fertility, love, joy, or rebirth, almost every country has its own beliefs and traditions surrounding the solstice. Some traditions can even be quite bizarre, here are ten of the most bizarre and unique summer solstice traditions from around the world.
Every year in Reykjavik, Iceland, a three-day music festival is held to celebrate the summer solstice. The festival is known as the Secret Solstice Festival. It celebrates by booking musical acts to perform continuously in the midnight sun. Regular visitors to the festival know to book well in advance as tickets are a hot commodity.
The festival is Norse-themed, celebrating ancient legends and mythology known to the area in Iceland. In addition to the music, you can participate in interesting activities like exploring a rare glacier cave or lava tunnel. Because of Iceland's proximity to the arctic circle, it is one of the best places to experience the full effect of the solstice.
When you think about summer solstice festivals, the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival is probably the first that comes to mind. This is a festival that utilizes a maypole, as is seen in many depictions of summer solstice festivals in popular culture (such as the upcoming horror film, Midsommar).
The maypole is meant to be phallic in its design as this festival was initially instituted as a celebration of fertility. Young women used to sleep with a special concoction of herbs beneath their pillows in the hopes they would dream of their future partner. Perhaps one of the strangest traditions is the "frog dance" where participants imitate frogs by jumping around the maypole and singing Små grodorna.
Stonehenge has long been a source of great mystery for tourists, scientists, and travelers alike. The site of this mysterious stone arrangement has baffled archaeologists for years. To this day we don't know exactly how these stones came to be arranged or why.
Some even believe the stone arrangement was an act of extraterrestrial beings or even a darker force such as witchcraft. Today, many make a habit of visiting Stonehenge to celebrate midsummer and watch the sun rise and fall during the longest day of the year. It is not uncommon to find pagans, deities, druids, and other folks at Stonehenge.
For 13 years yoga enthusiasts have been gathering in Time Square's Broadway Pedestrian Plaza to celebrate the summer solstice. Thousands come to New York from all over to lay their yoga mats in the streets of the big apple and feel united with one another and the sun, when it reaches the highest point in the sky.
The belief is that when the sun is at its apex it creates a universal force and centers you, along with inducing a sense of fortification and absolute peace. Joining in on these massive yoga classes is free, and there are even instructors around to assist you.
This festival doesn't always occur exactly on the summer solstice because it is based on the lunar calendar rather than the Gregorian one. But it is a celebration of the life of a famous Chinese poet and minister and former cadet of the royal house of Chu, Qu Yuan, who committed suicide in a river.
The Dragon Boat festival is said to stave off negative energies like the arrival of poisonous creatures and disease. One of the stranger traditions of this festival is the belief that on this day you can stand an egg straight up because of the position of Earth's axis in proximity to the sun. There are even competitions held.
To celebrate the longest day of the year coming to a close in Tirol, Austria, you can visit many different places in the mountaintops where mystical fires are lit. Typically, parties will be held in the mountains surrounding massive bonfires. There are often several cable cars running late into the night to cart guests to and fro.
In addition to spectacular fires, this night is accompanied by music and culinary feasts. There is also a celebratory cruise you can take nearby on Lake Achensee. The Hohe Salve mountaintop has some of the best panoramic views out of all the destinations. This is a great place to go for stunning photo moments.
This special day is another one that celebrates love. It shares the day with the summer solstice and is celebrated across Eastern Europe, in particular, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. The traditions of Kupala Night are grounded in Slavic pagan beliefs. One tradition requires women to create flower wreaths and then sail them down the river.
Young men would then try to catch one and, if he managed to, he would supposedly be the soul mate of the woman who made it. Other traditions include seeking out the magical fern flower, which is said to only bloom on this night every year.
This festival occurs in Santa Barbara, California every year. It began in 1974 in celebration of a famous artist and mime, Michael Gonzales. The event is known for its artistry and whimsy, with every year having a different theme. Recent years have seen themes like sci-fi, creatures, unity, and heroes.
Because of its creative roots, it's common for this festival to be exorbitant. You'll certainly see your fair share of bizarre costumes, make-up, talents, and other pursuits by the participants. The celebration continues to grow in size every year and involves dancing, drumming, culinary experimentation, and people that come from all walks of life to enjoy the longest day of the year.
A continued trend of these summer solstice festivals is that of fertility. The same can be said for the Greek tradition of Klidonas. The event involves traditions where virginal women drink from a special village well and then leave lucky personal belongings in the empty basin overnight, supposedly under a fig tree.
If they do so, they are lead to believe they will dream of their future spouse. Klidonas also involves many connections to bonfires and people will celebrate the solstice by leaping over them. The act of jumping over the burning logs three times is said to be an act of purification.
An Iranian festival to celebrate the summer solstice is known as Tirgan. On this day there is immense joy, dancing, special food like spinach soup, and recitation of poetry. It is customary for people to create hand-woven rainbow braids to signify the different elements of weather.
They wear the bracelets for ten days and then remove them and throw them in the stream as an act of worship for the archangel, Tishtrya, who controls the rains. The festival is meant as a way to ensure rain will be plentiful for the upcoming year. Tirgan also involves paying tribute to Arash the Archer, a man who once settled a volatile land dispute between Iran and Turan.