June 21st is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere — in Chicago, that means 15 hours and 13 minutes of daylight, but it’s not the same everywhere – some places get sunshine until late at night and it’s steeped in tradition. Here are a few places where the longest day of the year calls for Summer Solstice celebrations much different from American summer celebrations.
In Eastern Europe, they get more than 17 hours of daylight – giving them plenty of time to celebrate. Eastern European countries – Lithuania, Belarus, Poland – honor Summer Solstice as Kupala or St. John’s Day. Following tradition of Slavic folklore, the day is a festival of fertility and water. Children douse each other in water fights and uncoupled girls, read their romantic futures by sending flower wreaths in the river. According to folklore, it’s the only day the fern flower blooms; as a sort of pairing ceremony, girls are sent into the forest to find the fern flowers and boys are sent in to follow the girls. Young people already coupled jump over fire pits –hands locked—to determine the strength of their relationship.
Sweden, Finland and Norway get almost 19 hours of daylight – the sun rises before 4am and sets after 10pm. Like Eastern European countries, they celebrate St. John’s Day on the Summer Solstice – or Midsummer – which is taken very seriously. In Sweden and Finland most businesses close up shop and people leave town for the countryside to celebrate. Flowers and plants are thought to have special healing powers on the solstice, so to welcome summer, children pick flowers to decorate the Maypole which they later dance around. Norway’s summer solstice is full of superstition – to protect their cows, they decorate barns with troll repellent birch and rowanberries. The center of Summer Solstice celebration for all three countries, much like Eastern European countries, is the bonfire – a symbol of the sun.
In the United Kingdom, Stonehenge reigns as the most identifiable place to celebrate Summer Solstice. Stonehenge is a stone monument near what archaeologists believe to be ancient burial grounds that date back to 3100 B.C. Every year thousands of people gather at the site to watch the sun rise at 4:53am on the Summer Solstice. Archaeologists believe the giant stones were set up in alignment with the sun and they were used as ceremonial paths during the shortest and longest days of the year.
The only place in the United States that gets a day an excessive amount of daylight is Anchorage, Alaska where they get 19 hours and 21 minutes of daylight. Celebrations aren’t rooted in cultural traditions, but there is a big festival and a Midnight Sun Marathon.
We might not get as much sunlight as our northern friends, but it doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate a day with extra sunshine. Happy Summer Solstice!