The days are long, the nights are short, the sun shines and people get ready to celebrate – it’s time for the summer solstice! 21 June is the summer solstice (the middle of summer) in the northern hemisphere. It is the longest day and shortest night of the year and it is one of Europe’s most festive occasions! As the summer solstice draws near, we have put together a list of festive summer solstice traditions from different countries across Europe that you should definitely know about!
The summer solstice, also called Midsummer, has long been celebrated around the world in many different ways; from bonfires to great festive gatherings. The day has links to ancient pagan rituals and has become associated with Christianity and St. John the Baptist over the years (St. John the Baptist’s Day falls on 24 June annually).
Please note: Annual celebrations may differ from usual in 2021 due to Covid-19 safety restrictions.
Stonehenge is arguably the most recognised monument that is connected with the summer solstice! Thousands of people (including new-age druids and pagans) gather at the neolithic structures in the southwest of England to celebrate. On the summer solstice, the sunrise aligns directly with the stone circle making for epic scenes! The true origin of Stonehenge is shrouded in mystery. However, one theory suggests it was built to connect the sun, moon, Earth and seasons making it an important monument for summer solstice celebrations.
Midsummer (Midsommar in Swedish) is a national holiday in Sweden that is filled with food, dancing, festivals and flowers! Swedes of all ages head outdoors or to the countryside with family and friends to celebrate. Floral crowns, the maypole (which is at the centre of festivities) and many folk dances are the order of the day! Traditional food includes pickled herring, potatoes, chives and sour cream plus schnapps and vodka! If you’re heading to Sweden to celebrate, head to Skansen (an open-air museum) in Stockholm or any outdoor park!
The event will always take place on the Friday that falls between 20 – 26 June. In 2021, Midsummer Eve takes place on 25 June.
The summer solstice celebration is also a national holiday in Finland! It is known as Midsummer and Juhannus (as midsummer is also a celebration of St. John the Baptist). The Finns typically enjoy the holiday away from big cities; people gather with family and friends to fish, go boating, barbeque, enjoy saunas and light bonfires! Finland enjoys its longest daylight hours of the year around Midsummer with some places in the north of Finland, such as Lapland, experiencing midnight sun! Many years ago, people used to cast spells to help them find a spouse or increase fertility. Today, it is still a popular day for marriages.
Around the summer solstice, the city of Porto in Portugal traditionally throws a huge celebration in honour of St. John the Baptist. Festa de São João is the most festive time of the year in Porto! Weeks of festivities leading up to the longest night of the year. On St. John’s Eve (23 June) thousands of people traditionally gather in neighbourhoods to celebrate. There are bonfires, music, dancing, fireworks and barbequed sardines! The day originated as a pagan feast before transforming over the centuries into today’s Christian celebration. While it is one of the most festive days of the year, it is relatively unknown outside of Portugal!
In the mountains of Tyrol in Austria, you’ll find summer solstice traditions that reach back to the Middle Ages! People light bonfires on mountaintops in a tradition that worships the Earth. The fires burst into life as the sun sets and are crafted to take the form of different shapes and symbols – it is truly something to see! You can take in the scenes in different spots around the Tyrol mountains including Innsbruck and the Zugspitze area. Music, dancing and food usually accompany the bonfires.
Shortly after midsummer, Slavic countries celebrate Ivan Kupala. The holiday celebrates the peak of summer. Festivities in countries like Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are similar to other European summer solstice traditions, with songs, flowers and bonfires! There are a number of rituals including bonfire jumping and floating flower garlands on water (and making marriage predictions depending on if the flowers float or sink).
Experience these unique summer solstice traditions for yourself on your future trips to Europe! Take a look at Expat Explore European groups tours, start planning your next vacation and get ready to celebrate summer on a tour to Europe.
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