Summer Solstice sparks celebrations at Stonehenge in Europe

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Across the northern hemisphere on Tuesday, musicians lit up their instruments and children hung garlands of flowers in preparation for celebrations of the summer solstice – the longest day and shortest night of the year in this part of the world.

On June 21, Londoners experience around 17 hours of daylight. The sun rises in Ottawa at 05:14 and sets almost 16 hours later. It will be dark for 5½ hours in Sweden’s capital Stockholm.

For some cultures, the day has a mystical quality. Different groups celebrate the blossoming of nature at the beginning of summer, while others worship the sun. Vikings and ancient Egyptians celebrated the summer solstice centuries ago. Today it is marked in many ways in the countries of the northern hemisphere.

Crowds gathered at Stonehenge on June 21 to watch the summer solstice sunrise after Covid restrictions marred celebrations in 2020 and 2021. (Video: @carmenvazquez88 via Storyful)

For the pagans, it marks the beginning of the Festival of Litha, a celebration of the powers of the sun. Followers of paganism wear special clothing and garlands of flowers that are believed to ward off evil spirits, perform special rituals, and light bonfires.

In Wiltshire, England, pagans and other revelers greeted Tuesday’s early sunrise at Stonehenge with flutes and wreaths of flowers.

The image of Queen Elizabeth II was projected onto Stonehenge. Cue the controversy.

The 5,000-year-old World Heritage Site is aligned with the path of the sun so that “on Midsummer’s Day, standing in the center of the stone circle, the sun rises just to the left of the Heel Stone, an outer stone, north-east of the monument,” according to English Heritage, which is located takes care of hundreds of ancient monuments and sites.

This year, the Stonehenge sunrise celebrations – which were also streamed live for those unable to make the journey – were extra special as it was the first time in two years that the ancient monument had lifted the pandemic restrictions on public gatherings lifted.

According to Steven Morris, a reporter for the Guardian, the crowd was mixed. “A druid in flowing robes played a waltz on bagpipes in the dappled shade of a tree, while a group of pilgrims rested on the grass and made wreaths of summer flowers,” Morris wrote of the scene. “Three Buddhist monks strolled by while a group of men stripped off their T-shirts and drank beers in the warm sunshine, pledging to keep partying until the sun went down and rose again.”

In France, the summer solstice coincides with a national music festival that has been held annually since 1982. On June 21, partygoers, musicians and DJs take to the streets, and national monuments turn into concert venues. According to the organizers, the holiday is celebrated in 120 countries.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Music Day, created by Jack Lang, France’s Minister for Culture, to democratize access to musical performances and encourage people to explore new musical genres. The Paris Philharmonic Orchestra will plays Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony under the Louvre Pyramid, while a festival of Latin American dance bachata is held on the Eiffel Tower. Organizers say more than 18,000 concerts takes place worldwide.

June 21st is also the International Day of Yoga, celebrated in South Asia and around the world with mass yoga sessions and educational events about the benefits of the practice.

Sweden and its Nordic neighbors celebrate midsummer, or Midsummer, the weekend between June 19th and 26th. It is an official holiday in Sweden and marks the start of five weeks of summer vacation for children. They mark the occasion with bonfires, picnics, flower picking and maypole dancing.

Midsummer was traditionally a holiday of love and fertility. According to ancient folklore, anyone who puts at least seven different flowers under their pillow on Midsummer dreams of their future partner. And Swedish journalist Po Tidholm told Elle magazine in 2019 that Swedes tend to drink more than usual during the holiday season – which can lead to unexpected romantic pairings.

“That, and the romantic feel of a nice and long night with almost no sun setting, made March 22, nine months after midsummer, the day when most babies were born in Sweden,” Tidholm told Elle. “However, this is no longer true as most Swedes are pragmatic enough to plan their pregnancies in order to give birth when it fits into their work schedule.”