From Christian festivals honouring St. John the Baptist to Druid sun-worship, the longest day of the year has been marked by human cultures of all stripes. Here are five places around the world to experience the height of summer.
Stonehenge is probably the most famous celestial observatory in the world, though it was built by an unknown culture for reasons subject to long-running debate. But its function as a proto-calendar has led to exuberant celebrations there every summer. Access to the site is free on the summer solstice, and thousands of people of all traditions – pagan, spiritual and unaffiliated – come to revel during the shortest night of the year. It is one of the few times a year when visitors are allowed among the famous stones.
Times Square, New York City
As part of Midsummer celebrations in NYC, Times Square is turned into a massive outdoor yoga studio. Five free classes on June 21 attract thousands of yoga enthusiasts who spread their mats around the central Manhattan landmark from dawn til dusk. It is the perfect day for sun salutations, after all, as the sun reaches its highest point in the sky at midday on the summer solstice. Regardless if you are a yoga enthusiast yourself, thousands of people performing a collective ohm on the streets of downtown New York is a sight to be seen. The classes are free, but registration in advance is required, as they often reach capacity.
Nobody celebrates the summer solstice quite like the Swedes, for whom the Midsommar festival is the biggest party of the year. They have numerous traditions associated with it, including picking bouquets of flowers to augur a future spouse, feasting, drinking schnapps, singing and dancing. The most fundamental tradition, though, is the raising of the maypole, which is a phallic symbol set into the ground to encourage fertile soil, and which is then danced around merrily. Swedes flee the cities to enjoy the outdoors with friends and family, and the countryside is where you’ll find the best Midsommar celebrations. If you don’t have friends and family there already, the city of Leksand hosts one of the largest celebrations in the country.
Puerco Pueblo Petrified Forest, Arizona
The Puerco Pueblo Petrified Forest is a national park in the northeastern part of Arizona. One of the most interesting things about this national park, though, is anthropogenic. Evidence of inhabitants in the area dates back 8,000 years, including petroglyphs and pictographs. Around the summer solstice, the light from the high sun plays with rock shadows around a particular petroglyph in a unique and primitive calendric display. You can take a guided tour with a ranger to watch this event, which demonstrates just how ingrained the summer solstice is in human culture.