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.