Summer Solstice Traditions Around The World


culturallyours podcast summer solstice traditions

Summer Solstice Traditions Around The World

Show Details

In this episode, we explore summer solstice traditions and what they mean to people around the world. From ancient civilizations like the Incas to native Americans to modern day folks, people all around the world welcome the first few days of summer with much awaited anticipation. Known as the longest day of the year, summer solstice is when much of the year goes through renewal and regrowth as the sun’s energy and light is at its peak. 

Show Notes

Karthika explores the culture and traditions around midsummer’s eve and the summer solstice. People all over the world have been celebrate these first few days of summer since even before millennia with fires, feasting and celebrations. Many traditions throughout time have celebrated the Solstices – Ancient Egypt, Aztecs of Mexico, Chinese, Native American. Western civilizations have celebrated this first day of summer often called Midsummer or St. John’s Day. It has been known as one of the most powerful days of the year for spiritual growth and healing.

The Transcript

Summer solstice which is otherwise known as midsummer, marks both the longest day and the shortest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It is technically the official start of summer, although let me tell you with more than a week of nearly 90deg temps here in Chicago, it almost feels like it is summer already. But the summer solstice is more than just about the temperature. It is something far more ancient and spiritual. It is in fact one of Europe’s most celebrated and spiritual evenings, which has long been associated with both Christian as well as a more ancient, Pagan ritual. However, it’s not just Europe that celebrates the summer solstice. Other ancient cultures like the Incas also has special celebrations for when the Earth moved into a cycle of growth and abundance.

The longest day of the year tends to kick off the start of the summer season and with it, the harvest. So it should come as no surprise that the solstice has always been linked to fertility — both of the flora and fauna as well as us humans.

I absolutely loved learning about some of the more ancient connotations around summer solstice. Perhaps it is just me, but I find myself gravitating towards understanding some of these ancient practices and rituals this season as a way to ground myself against everything that is happening around me, that quite frankly I cannot make sense of.

So today on the CulturallyOurs podcast, I invite you to join me as we explore the traditions and celebrations around the summer solstice and see how countries and communities around the world celebrate the longest day of the year.

The Summer Solstice is a time seen among many as the season of light and growth. It is also a way to reflect on our own personal growth. If you think about it, this is the time of the year when there is so much more light and energy, literately from the sun. Using this energy in the most productive and fruitful way has always been something that people have done during the solstice. The Sun represents the light of all life and consciousness. Seeds are planted. It is a time of renewal. The Solstice signifies the time when the Earth is in brink of her strength, fertility, and abundance. The word “Solstice” is derived from the Latin words sol and systere, meaning ‘Sun’ and standing still.

Following the solstice, the days get shorter, the nights get longer.

Many traditions throughout time have celebrated the Solstices — Ancient Egypt, Aztecs of Mexico, Chinese, Native American. Western civilizations have celebrated this first day of summer often called Midsummer or St. John’s Day. It has been known as one of the most powerful days of the year for spiritual growth and healing.

Fire is used symbolically throughout summer solstice celebrations in praise of the sun as a way to bring luck and to ward off the darkness.  Ancient dances would often follow the Sun’s movement like a spiral.  People would join hands weaving through the streets, winding into a decreasing spiral into the middle and then unwinding back out again. Huge bonfires would be lit. In fact these are still used as a part of summer solstice celebrations. In some cultures, cattle, horses and even people would pass in between these fires as a way to get cleansed and blessed for the new season.

The origins of summer solstice cannot really be pinpointed to a particular time or year. This cultrally significant event has been around for generations in many ancient cultures around the world. It is believed the summer solstice has been celebrated by human beings as early as the Stone Ages. As with other pre-Christian holy dates, the Christian Church found it easier to adapt them into Christian holidays, than to eliminate them. Saint John’s Day which is the feast day of Saint John the Baptist, was established by the undivided Christian Church in the 4th century AD, in honor of the birth of the Saint John the Baptist and fell around the time of the summer solstice, June 24th.

In the worship of St John, men light three types of fires: one that was clear of any bones or wood and was called a bonfire. The other was of clean wood and called wakefire and the third was of bones and wood called St. John’s Fire. These fires were symbolized as an emblem of St. John the Baptist, who was known as a burning and shining light and the preparer of the way of Christ.

Midsummer is another name for the timeframe around summer solstice and is the Scandinavian holiday celebrating the longest day of the year.

Lets look at how countries and communities around the world celebrate summer solstice.


In Sweden, solstice traditions include dancing around a maypole, feasting on herring and drinking large qualities of vodka. There also used to be a tradition among unmarried girls, where if they ate something very salty during Midsummer, and collected several different kinds of flowers and put these under their pillow when they slept, they would dream of their future husbands.


In Austria the midsummer solstice is celebrated each year with a spectacular procession of ships down the Danube River as it flows through the wine-growing Wachau Valley just north of Vienna. Up to 30 ships sail down the river in line as fireworks erupt from the banks and hill tops while bonfires blaze and the vineyards are lit up. Lighted castle ruins also erupt with fireworks during the cruise downstream.

North America

In North America, many Native American tribes held ritual dances to honor the sun. The Sioux were known to hold one of the most spectacular rituals known as the Sun Dance. Usually performed during the June solstice, preparations for the Sun Dance included cutting and raising a tree that would be considered a visible connection between the heavens and Earth, and setting up teepees in a circle to represent the cosmos. Participants abstained from food and drink during the dance itself. Their bodies were decorated in the symbolic colors of the sun and light with red, blue, yellow, white, and black.


In Denmark, the solstitial celebration is called sankthans  (St. John’s Eve). It was an official holiday until 1770, and in accordance with the Danish tradition of celebrating a holiday on the evening before the actual day, it takes place on the evening of 23 June. It is the day where the medieval wise men and women who were the doctors of that time, would gather special herbs that they needed for the rest of the year to cure people.

Bonfires on the beach, speeches, picnics and songs are traditional, although they are built in many other places where beaches may not be close by. Bonfires are lit in order to repel witches and other evil spirits.


In the Finnish midsummer celebration, bonfires are very common and are burned at lakesides and by the sea. Often branches from birch trees (koivu) are placed on both side of the front door to welcome visitors. In folk magic, midsummer was a very potent night and the time for many small rituals, mostly for young maidens seeking suitors and for fertility. In a tradition that continues still today, an unmarried woman collects seven different flowers and places them under her pillow to dream of her future husband.

An important feature of the midsummer in Finland is the white night and the midnight sun. Because of Finland’s location around the Arctic Circle the nights near the midsummer day are short (with twilight even at midnight) or non-existent. Many Finns leave the cities for Midsummer and spend time in the countryside. Traditions include bonfires, cookouts, sauna and spending time together with friends or family.


The traditional midsummer party in Spain is the celebration in honor of Saint John the Baptist and is celebrated in many areas of the country. Bonfires called tequeos, which means people of the dance. Parties are organized usually at beaches, where bonfires are lit and firework displays usually take place. Midsummer tradition is also especially strong in northern areas of the country where rituals reveal the pagan beliefs widespread throughout Europe in Neolithic times. These beliefs pivot on three basic ideas: the importance of medicinal plants, especially in relation to health, youth and beauty; the protective character of fire to ward men off evil spirits and witches and, finally, the purifying, miraculous effects of water.

United Kingdom

In Great Britain from the 13th century, Midsummer was celebrated on Midsummer Eve also known as St. John’s Eve on June 23 and St. Peter’s Eve on June 28 with the lighting of bonfires, feasting, and merrymaking. But perhaps the most famous summer solstice celebrations happen at Stonehenge. To this day, people still gather at Stonehenge to see the sun rise. The Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone, set outside the main circle, align with the rising sun.  And many of the ancient traditions continue — bonfires are still lit to celebrate the Sun at its height of power and to ask the Sun not to withdraw into winter darkness.


Inti Raymi, the most important festival to Incas, welcomed the new agricultural year and celebrated Pachamama (Mother Nature in Kichwa)Incas would pray to Inti with hallucinatory traditions, animal sacrifices, and dances thanking Inti for giving them more hours in the day to tend to the harvesting and ensure a prosperous coming season.

As I learn more about some of these ancient festivals and celebrations around summer solstice, one thing that is certain for me is that we need to have a sense of acknowledgement and understanding of the ancient energy and power of the elements around us and how our ancestors used that knowledge in their everyday lives. Even if you don’t celebrate summer solstice the traditional way, there are simple ways to acknowledge this special time of the year and seek to understand the mystical and spiritual aspect of it.

Chloe Rain, a healing arts practitioner from Finland shares some easy ways that we too can celebrate summer solstice authentically and mindfully, absorbing the earth’s energy for our own inner regeneration and rejuvenation.

Some ways you too can enjoy summer solstice

1)  Celebrate by gathering plants and healing herbs at this time of the year. It is believed that they are at their most potent on the Summer Solstice. Five common sacred plants associated with Midsummer are St. John’s Wort, Vervain, Yarrow, Fern, and Mugwort.

2)  Gather with others to create a circle or spiral. Exchange songs, stories, and poems with others. Dance, drum, sing and celebrate.

3) Create a Sun Wheel or mandala which is a symbol of the circle of life and connectedness. It can be made from flowers or things found in nature.

4) Keep a sacred fire burning. You can create a big fire like a bonfire to celebrate with friends, but even a small fire, in the form of a candle can be just as potent.

5) Make a prayer stick or prayer tree and place specific prayers for those who need healing on it. Make a prayer for the return to peace where there is no peace, for vibrancy and good health in areas of the world where there is now poverty and scarcity.

You can do all or any of the above with intention. This will help spread light, love and energy in your own surroundings to carry forth for the rest of the year and beyond.

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