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Nine Surprising Ways to Celebrate the Summer Solstice

Summer’s not just about rediscovering your love of 99s and digging your flip-flops out of the back of the wardrobe: the summer solstice, which this year occurs on 21 June, is seen around the world as a celebration of the sun, long days, fortune and a productive harvest. The Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes in particular were, and in some cases still are, huge fans of the solstice.

But what actually is it? The June solstice is when the sun reaches its northernmost position, when you look at it from the Earth. It stands still, at the Tropic of Cancer, then reverses direction and starts heading south once more. So where can you go and what can you do to celebrate the solstice? As it’s too hot for you to do the research, we’ve done it for you… aren’t we kind?

1. Do yoga in Times Square

Yes, we know this sounds slightly more Sex in the City than Stonehenge, but the solstice in New York's Times Square is in its 13th year. It’s a day-long yoga session, which begins at 7am and ends just before sunset. If work is understandably a little reluctant to let you have the day off to nip to the Big Apple, you can join in via your laptop through the event’s live podcast.

2. Light a mountain fire

In the Wilder Kaiser region of Tyrol in Austria, people light mountain fires to mark the solstice in an Alpine tradition that harks back to native tribes using fire to worship the earth. Party-goers head between mountain tops on cable cars that run through the night, and anyone slightly less adventurous can enjoy food and drink by Lake Achensee.

3. Wildflower wreaths in Sweden

Midsommar is one of the most important times of the year in Sweden. Put a wildflower wreath on your head, drink the local fire-water (you’ll probably need one before you dare wear the wreath), eat cured salmon and potatoes and fling yourself around a decorated maypole.

4. Don’t sleep in Iceland

72 hours of straight sunlight in Iceland? Then let’s have a party. Reykjavik throws a massive party with music, dancing and general jollity that goes on for days and days.

5. Stand with the stones at Stonehenge

One of the most well-known places to celebrate the solstice in the UK is Stonehenge. You’ll need to be up and out of your yurt by around 4.30am on the day of the solstice to watch the sun come up behind the standing stones. Stonehenge is believed to have been used as an important religious site by early Britons 4,000 years ago, and druids and hippies flock to the site every year.

6. Trek up Mount Olympus

If you want to combine the solstice with a hearty trek, why not plod up Mount Olympus? The solstice according to the Greek calendar is the first day of the year, and happens a month before the opening of the Olympic Games. For 2,500 years, locals have ascended Mount Olympus on this day.

7. Download energy from aliens on Mount Shasta

OK, bit of a wild one here. but if you happen to be in California and you believe that Mount Shasta, California’s biggest mountain, is inhabited by aliens called Lemurians, you’ll want to be there on the solstice to receive an energy download from the “Crystalline Council of Light”. We’re not promising that’s what’ll happen, but it’s worth a shot.

8. Eat bacon in Riga

Jānis is a Latvian pagan deity, and he’s celebrated at the summer solstice in Riga in Latvia. Local custom dictates that you must spend the shortest night of the year awake, by a bonfire. If you are fortunate enough to be in love, you should also use that night to search for a magical flower, before washing your face in the morning dew. After you’ve done all that, you get to enjoy beer, pie filled with bacon and a local cheese made out of caraway seeds.

9. Make a teepee

Sioux tribes perform ritual dances to honour the sun: the dancers are painted in the red of the sunset, the blue of the sky, the yellow of lightning, the white of light, and the black of night. A circle of teepees is created to represent the cosmos, and a tree is chopped down and raised to create a connection between the sky and the earth. In honour of the sun, nothing is consumed throughout the celebration period, unlike other celebrations which seem to focus heavily on refreshments...

So there you go. Solstice options, all wrapped up. A glass of something nice and cold in the garden also works, by the way.

Radio 4's Four Seasons: poetry readings to celebrate the summer solstice.

Four Seasons on Radio 4