Midsummer, solstice and Litha: Welcome, summer!

Dancing outdoors

Midsummer dancing. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

THURSDAY, JUNE 21: Bonfires, picnics on the beach, wreaths of wildflowers and Midsummer parties—Scandinavian-style—abound today, at the summer solstice. Across the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the “longest day of the year,” meaning that for astrological reasons, inhabitants of the north experience more hours and minutes of daylight than on any other day of the year.

For people around the world, Midsummer has been equated with sun gods, greenery, fertility rituals and medicinal herbs for millennia. In Scandinavian countries, the longest day is one of the most beloved holidays of the year. A Scandinavian Midsummer is complete with an entire day’s worth of outdoor activities for citizens young and old: extravagant smorgasbord lunches, outdoor games for the entire community, dancing and more.

Flower crowns are all the rage, and this ancient accessory for Midsummer fetes is as easy as gathering a few favorite flowers and basic craft materials. For a tutorial on how to create a chic one, check out Lauren Conrad.com.

The Midsummer menu is as dear to Scandinavians as the Christmas goose or ham is to celebrants of the winter holiday, and fresh strawberries often take center stage in cakes, shortcakes or eaten straight out of the bowl. 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, visit Bon Appetit or ScandinaviaFood.com.

MIDSUMMER AROUND THE WORLD

In Finland, the summer holiday unofficially starts with Midsummer, and so many flock to countryside cottages that city streets can seem eerily empty. Saunas, bonfires, barbecues and fishing are enjoyed by hundreds.

Two northeastern towns in Brazil have been in lengthy competition for the title of “Biggest Saint John Festival in the World,” and throughout the South American country, dishes made with corn and sweet potatoes are favored.

In Austria, a spectacular procession of ships makes its way down the Danube River, while fireworks light up the night sky above castle ruins. In Latvia, homes, livestock and even cars are decorated with leaves, tree branches, flowers and other greenery.

The largest American celebrations of Midsummer take place in New York City, Seattle, Tucson and San Francisco. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, members of the large Finnish population celebrate Juhannus with beachfront bonfires and other outdoor activities.

LITHA: A WICCAN AND PAGAN SOLSTICE CELEBRATION

Wiccans and Pagans may observe Litha, a holiday of gratitude for light and life. At Litha, adherents note the full abundance of nature at the point of mid-summer. 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. In centuries past, torchlight processions were common; at Stonehenge, the heelstone marks the midsummer sunrise as viewed from the center of the stone circle.

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.

Interested in a modern-day take on gathering and drying healing herbs? Check out this story by Antioch College student Aubrey Hodapp, whose studies under an herbalist have helped her to deliver local, organic tea to her fellow students and much more (featured this week at FeedTheSpirit).

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Categories: ChristianInterfaithInternational ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

World celebrates summer solstice with Midsummer, St. John and Litha

Circle of people holding hands, in movement around a pole covered in leaves and vines

Summer solstice, or Midsummer, is widely celebrated around the world. Above, celebrants dance at a Midsummer event in Sweden. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, JUNE 21: It’s the longest day of the year—summer solstice—and from Sweden to Brazil to the United States, Midsummer celebrations are in full swing.

Astrologically, summer solstice occurs when the tilt of Earth’s semi-axis is most inclined toward the sun. For people around the world, Midsummer has been associated with sun gods, greenery, fertility rituals and medicinal herbs for millennia. For modern Wiccans, summer solstice is known as Litha: adherents honor the Sun God as the lord of the forests, dine on garden-fresh fruits and vegetables and burn incense of lemon, rose and wisteria. (Wicca.com has more.)

With the spread of Christianity, Midsummer became associated with the birth of St. John the Baptist—although, specifically, the saint’s day is fixed on June 24.

Bonfires on the beach, wreaths of wildflowers, outdoor dancing and relaxing in the countryside are all popular ways to spend the week of Midsummer. (Find recipes, flower-centered wreath DIYs, craft and party ideas and more on Pinterest.)

MIDSUMMER AROUND THE WORLD:
FROM SWEDEN AND FINLAND TO BRAZIL

Overhead perspective of bunch of strawberries

Strawberries are in season in many places this time of year, and are a popular Midsummer treat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Aside from Christmas, Midsummer is the most important holiday of the Swedish year. Grand outdoor lunches, speckled with seemingly endless lines of hot and cold dishes and hors d’oeuvres, are shared by family and friends. Children braid flowers and leaves into their hair, and adults take part in merry drinking. (Get the inside scoop at Visit Sweden.)

In Finland, the summer holiday unofficially starts with Midsummer, and so many flock to countryside cottages that city streets can seem eerily empty. Saunas, bonfires, barbecues and fishing are enjoyed by hundreds. (Learn more at Visit Finland.) Ancient belief is that the louder one’s behavior on Midsummer and Midsummer Eve, the more evil spirits that will be driven away.

Did you know? Centuries before the placement of the Feast of St. John the Baptist, a golden-flowered mid-summer herb—St. John’s Wort—was picked at Midsummer. It was believed that St. John’s Wort held miraculous healing powers, which were especially potent if picked on Midsummer’s Eve.

Two northeastern towns in Brazil have been in lengthy competition for the title of “Biggest Saint John Festival in the World,” and throughout the South American country, dishes made with corn and sweet potatoes are favored.

In Austria, a spectacular procession of ships makes its way down the Danube River, while fireworks light up the night sky above castle ruins. In Latvia, homes, livestock and even cars are decorated with leaves, tree branches, flowers and other greenery.

The largest American celebrations of Midsummer take place in New York City, Seattle, Tucson and San Francisco. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, members of the large Finnish population celebrate Juhannus with beachfront bonfires and other outdoor activities.

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Categories: International Observances