When is the Summer Solstice and how is it celebrated? Read about the history of the holiday, when it is, and why it was important to ancient peoples -- and then learn how to celebrate it yourself!
Summer is a time of joyful and vibrant energy; a time when ancient people, and people today, enjoy long warm days and celebrations. The Summer Solstice falls on different days depending on which day the sun reaches it's journey to the farthest part of the Northern Equator. This year, it will be celebrated on June 20, 2012. In the Nothern climate, it is the longest day of the year, also called Midsummer and Litha. Modern people usually don't even notice the Solstice, but they do feel it -- the summer heat, the wish to be outdoors, and even summer romances are all believed to be driven by the energy of the Solstice.
What Did the Summer Solstice Mean to the Ancient Pagans?
To the ancient Pagans, the Summer Solstice was one of eight holy days in the solar calendar. After the spread of Christianity, many of the others become holidays that are still celebrated today. The Winter Solstice became Christmas, the Spring Equinox became Easter, and even Halloween and Groundhog's Day have their roots in ancient Pagan celebrations.
The Summer Solstice was the time of year when the natural energy of the earth was at its strongest and most vibrant. For the ancient Pagans, the Summer Solstice was celebrated by performing a series of fertility and purification rituals in order to bring this power into their own lives. Their celebrations involved fire to represent the sun, since the Solstice is the day when the sun is in the sky the longest. Ancient Pagans would build bonfires and then leap over them as a purification rite -- they believed that fire was cleansing, and the energy of fire is strongest on the Summer Solstice.
The Summer Solstice was also surrounded with parties, dances, music and feasts. It was a day to rejoice as a community in life and love.
How Can We Celebrate It Today?
Even most modern Pagans don't actually leap over bonfires on the Summer Solstice anymore, because of the dangers involved. They do, however, dance around fires, play music, and eat a large meal of summer foods like berries and dairy. Anybody today can still enjoy the holiday without any of its religious meanings. Many cities and towns have a public midsummer celebration of some sort, including Midsummer fairs, dances and feasts.
If your town doesn't have a public midsummer celebration, throw one yourself! Have an outdoor party during the afternoon and evening hours, when people can appreciate the length of the day. As the sun goes down, light the space with lots of candles to represent the strength of the sun and the passionate energy of this time of the year. Provide plenty of food to represent the abundance of the earth, and choose locally-grown fruits and vegetables to connect your celebration with the land in your area. If you or your friends are musicians, play live music. It will give your party more life and vibrancy, which is what the Summer Solstice is all about.
- Summer Solstice Celebrations of Christianity, Judaism, and Neopaganism, http://www.religioustolerance.org/summer_solstice.htm.
Cunningham, Scott. Wicca: a Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. Llewellyn Publications, 2004.