Litha, Solstice and Midsummer: Celebrate the peak of summer

Group gathering outside in summer, blue skies, raising pole cross Swedish

Erecting a maypole at a Midsummer celebration in Sweden, 2013. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 21 through SATURDAY, JUNE 24: Seaside picnics, Midsummer parties and bonfires abound at the summer solstice—and, across the Northern Hemisphere, June 21 is the “longest day of the year,” this year. Astronomically, the summer solstice occurs when the tilt of Earth’s semi-axis in the northern hemisphere is most inclined toward the sun; thus, inhabitants of the north experience more hours and minutes of daylight today than on any other day of the year. In many Scandinavian countries, this time of year is celebrated as Midsummer—which includes Midsummer’s Eve and then Midsummer—and it is celebrated with an entire day’s worth of outdoor activities for citizens young and old. Wiccans and Pagans may observe Litha, a holiday of gratitude for light and life.

OUTDOOR DANCING, FLOWER CROWNS & SMORGASBORD

In Scandinavian countries, the longest day of the year is one of the most cherished holidays of the year. Affectionately termed Midsummer, many spend the day outdoors with an extravagant smorgasbord lunch, games for the entire community, time at the beach, dancing and bonfires. (In a recent article on the festival, AFAR calls Sweden’s Midsummer “straight out of a fairytale.”) Whether the long, dark Scandinavian winters are the reason for Midsummer exhilaration or it’s something else altogether, this holiday is unrivaled in many countries of the world.

Bowl of fresh strawberries amid green plants, outdoors

Strawberries are a staple on many Midsummer tables. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Flower crowns are uber popular beyond Europe, and this ancient accessory for Midsummer fetes is as easy as gathering a few favorite flowers and basic craft materials. (Some stores sell simple flower circlets, too.) For a tutorial on how to create a unique, chic one, check out Lauren Conrad.com. Got real flowers? Check out this YouTube video on how to make a crown using fresh components.

The Midsummer menu is as dear to Scandinavians as the Christmas goose or ham is to celebrants of the winter holiday, and fresh strawberries take center stage in Midsummer cakes and shortcakes. (Find more info at the official website of Sweden.) Other traditional foods include the season’s first potatoes, made with dill and butter; a roast; herring or other types of fish and seafood; hard-boiled eggs and summer cabbage. For recipes and ideas on how to spend the longest day of the year, check out Bon Appetit or the UK’s The Independent.

Did you know? Though harvest is not in full swing yet, many wild herbs are mature for picking and, thus, Midsummer is known as “Gathering Day” in Wales and in other various regions. Herbs, gathered most often for medicinal qualities, are gathered and dried for later use.

LITHA: A TRIBUTE TO LIGHT AND LIFE

Adherents of Wicca and Paganism look to the Sun God on the summer solstice, noting the full abundance of nature at the point of mid-summer. (Note: Some adherents celebrate on June 25, the fixed calendar date that is known as “Old Litha.”)

Traditionally, fresh fruits and vegetables are the main course at shared meals, and bonfires are lit to pay homage to the full strength of the sun. At Stonehenge, the heelstone marks the midsummer sunrise as viewed from the center of the stone circle.

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