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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Categories: InterfaithInternational ObservancesNational ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

Midsummer, Litha and solstice: Welcome, summer!

Three older girls smile while wearing wildflower crowns

Girls pose in Midsummer crowns of flowers. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, JUNE 20: 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. In 2016, summer solstice will occur at 22:34 Universal Time (UTC).

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.

Strawberries and cream in cups on tray of wood filled with wildflowers, red drink bottles in background

Strawberries—usually ripe for the picking at Midsummer—have a place at almost every Swedish smorgasbord luncheon. Photo by Karlis Dambrans, courtesy of Flickr

MIDSUMMER ACROSS THE GLOBE

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: InterfaithInternational ObservancesNational ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

Call it Litha, Midsummer or Solstice: Celebrate northern height of summer

Large crowd dancing outdoors in a circle, with farmhouse and meadows in background

Midsummer dancing in Sweden, June 2013. Photo by Lars Andersson, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, JUNE 21: Picnics on the beach, Midsummer parties and bonfires abound at the summer solstice—and, across the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the “longest day of the 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. (Wikipedia has details.) In several Scandinavian countries, the day is celebrated as Midsummer’s Eve and then Midsummer, complete 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.

Smiling young girl with blonde hair and a crown of daisies and other flowers

A young girl wears a crown of flowers at a Midsummer celebration in New York. Photo by SwedenNewYork, courtesy of Flickr

MIDSUMMER: FROM SMORGASBORDS TO BONFIRES

In Scandinavian countries, the longest day of the year is one of the most beloved 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. (Learn more—and check out an authentic Swedish YouTube video of Midsummer—in our all-summer column.) 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.

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 and Cosmopolitan.

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 and ideas on how to spend the longest day of the year, check out the UK’s The Independent.

LITHA: A TRIBUTE TO STRENGTH OF MID-SUMMER SUN

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. 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. (Wicca.com has more.) 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: International 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

Solstice / Midsummer: Bonfires, fertility rituals and the Heel Stone

Midsummer bonfire in Finland.jpg

Midsummer bonfire in Finland.jpg

FRIDAY, JUNE 21: Summer has officially arrived!

From ancient cultures steeped in fertility rituals to the general merriment surrounding Midsummer today, people have been in awe of the summer solstice for millennia. Thousands will gather at Stonehenge, Wiccans and Pagans celebrate Litha and age-old traditions are relived in several countries, as participants enjoy the “longest” day of the year. In 2013, summer solstice will occur at 5:04 Universal Time.

Residents of the northern hemisphere bask in daylight today, as the sun reaches its most northerly point in the Tropic of Cancer. From the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), summer solstice occurs in a single instant. (Wikipedia has details.) Ancient cultures looked to celestial events like solstice to measure time and seasons.

STONEHENGE: THE HEEL STONE

The Stonehenge monument—built between 3,000 and 2,000 BCE—is a prime example of ancient measurement. Even today, Stonehenge visitors can witness the renowned summer solstice event: the sun rising above the Heel Stone. (EarthSky has photos.)

PASSION AND FERTILITY FOLKLORE

In Scandinavian countries, Midsummer and Midsummer’s Eve are celebrated with more pomp than any other holiday, apart from Christmas. In Belarus, girls and boys bathe in lakes with romantic hopes; in Poland, unmarried women float floral wreaths down rivers to waiting bachelors; also in Poland, both sexes leap over bonfires for luck in their marriage. (Wikipedia has more.) Thoughts of fertility reign strong, as Swedish ethnologist Jan-Ojvind Swahn reports that many Swedish children are born nine months after Midsummer. (CNN has a provocative article.) Although North American traditions aren’t as prevalent as their European counterparts, communities with large Swedish and Finnish populations hold parades, pageants and labyrinth walks, all of which attract thousands.

PAGANS AND WICCANS SAY: LITHA

Modern Pagans and Wiccans keep the ritual of bonfires on Midsummer Eve, often with fire festivals and grand gatherings. (Learn more at Wicca.com.) Devotees believe that the Sun God, seated on a greenwood throne and surrounded by foliage, has reached his greatest strength at Litha. Fresh garden vegetables and fruits are bountiful at the Pagan table.

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Categories: International Observances