As the shortest night of the year fades into twilight, and dawn breaks on the longest day, the world celebrates: it’s officially summer.
Festivities around the world honoring the Summer Solstice are rooted in pagan religious customs—the end of June historically marked a time for nature and new beginnings for Germanic, Slav, and Celtic tribes. Ancient celebrations of song, dance, bonfires, and feasts stood in as prayers for fertility, good fortune, and bountiful harvests—celebrations that are still practiced today (if a bit modernized).
Wachau Midsummer Night in Tyrol, Austria
Austria’s solstice celebration is a scene to behold, as torches and bonfires are lit up on mountainsides in the Wachau und Nibelungengau valleys. The best place to see the spectacle is on the deck of an illuminated ship, like the Brandner, that sails down the Danube River through Wachau Valley as fireworks erupt from the riverbanks.
Mount Olympus Trek in Greece
The Summer Solstice, according to some versions of the Greek Calendar, marks the first day of the year. It also occurs one month before the opening of the Olympic Games. Today, a faction of locals make the trek up Mount Olympus, a tradition that has lasted some 2,500 years.
Secret Solstice Festival in Reykjavík, Iceland
In the land of the midnight sun, you may never see sunrise or sundown—but doesn’t dissuade the Icelanders from throwing a serious party. The Secret Solstice music festival, in central Reykjavík, entertains carousers for 72 hours of straight sunlight with esoteric local acts akin to Sigur Rós, one the country’s most famous musical exports.
Jāņi Day in Riga, Latvia
According to ancient Latvian legend, the shortest night of the year must be spent awake by the glow of a bonfire and in pursuit of a magical fern flower—said to bring luck to lovers—before concluding by cleansing one’s face in the morning dew. Known as Jāņi Day (after the pagan deity Jānis, bringer of good fortune and fertility), locals hold great feasts, such as the one at Riga’s Ethnographic Open-Air Museum, with traditional Lïgo foods including cheese made with caraway seeds, bacon-filled pie, and sweet beer.
The Skansen Museum in Stockholm, Sweden
Few celebrate the beginning of summer like the Swedes, who brave the long, dark winters of the north. During the day of “Midsommar,” considered a national holiday in Sweden, locals don folk costumes, light bonfires, and dance around maypoles (midsommarstång). The most famous demonstration of the revelry might be at Stockholm’s outdoor Skansen Museum, where guests bind birch wreaths and continues the festivities through the night.
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