Summer solstice triggers celebrations at Stonehenge in Europe

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Across the northern hemisphere on Tuesday, musicians shone with their instruments, and the children put up flower wreaths in preparation for the celebration of the summer solstice – the year’s longest day and shortest night in this part of the world.

On June 21, Londoners will experience around 17 hours of daylight. The sun will rise at 5:14 a.m. in Ottawa and set almost 16 hours later. In Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, it will be dark for 5½ hours.

For some cultures, the day has a mysterious quality to it. Different groups celebrate nature that blooms at the beginning of summer, while others worship the sun. Vikings and ancient Egyptians celebrated the summer solstice centuries ago. Today it is marked in a number of ways ashore in the northern hemisphere.

Crowds gathered at Stonehenge on June 21 to watch the sunrise on the summer solstice after covid restrictions affected the festivities in 2020 and 2021. (Video: @ carmenvazquez88 via Storyful)

For pagans, it marks the start of the Litha Festival, a celebration of the forces of the sun. Pagan worshipers wear special outfits and wreaths, which are believed to repel evil spirits, hold special rituals, and start bonfires.

In Wiltshire, England, heathens and other celebrants welcomed the early sunrise on Tuesday at Stonehenge with flutes and flower crowns.

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The 5,000-year-old World Heritage Site is in line with the movement of the sun, so that “if you were to stand in the middle of the stone circle on midsummer day, the sun would rise just to the left of Hælsteinen, an outlying rock north-east of the monument”, according to English Heritage preserve hundreds of ancient monuments and places.

This year, the celebration of Sunrise at Stonehenge – which was also streamed live for those who could not take the tour – was extra special, as it was the first time in two years that the old monument lifted pandemic restrictions on public gatherings.

The audience was diverse, according to Steven Morris, a reporter for the Guardian who was there. “A druid in floating cloaks played a waltz on the bagpipe in the cracked shade of a tree while a group of pilgrims rested on the grass and made crowns of summer flowers,” Morris wrote of the scene. “Three Buddhist monks strolled past while a group of men took off their T-shirts in the hot sunshine and drank beer, promising to continue partying until the sun goes down and rises again.”

In France, the summer solstice coincides with a national celebration of music that has been held annually since 1982. On June 21, partygoers, musicians and DJs take to the streets, and national monuments are transformed into concert halls. The holiday is celebrated in 120 countries, according to the organizers.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Music Day, started by Jack Lang, France’s Minister of Culture, to democratize access to musical performances and encourage people to discover new musical genres. Paris Philharmonic Orchestra will play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony under the Louvre Pyramid, while the Eiffel Tower will host a festival featuring the Latin American dance Bachata. The organizers say more than 18,000 concerts will be held all over the world.

June 21 is also International Yoga Day, celebrated in South Asia and around the world with mass yoga sessions and educational events about the benefits of practice.

Sweden and its Nordic neighbors celebrate Midsummer, or Midsummer, on the weekend between 19 and 26 June. In Sweden, it is the official holiday and the start of a five-week summer holiday for children. They mark the occasion with bonfires, picnics, flower picking and corn pole dancing.

Midsummer was traditionally a holiday of love and fertility. According to ancient folklore, those who put at least seven different flowers under their pillows in midsummer would dream of their future partner. And the Swedish journalist Po Tidholm told the magazine Elle in 2019 that Swedes tend to drink more during the holidays than they normally would – which can lead to unexpected romantic connections.

“That, and the romantic feeling of a beautiful and long night when the sun almost does not set, used to do March 22, nine months after midsummer, the day when most children were born in Sweden,” Tidholm told Elle. “However, this is no longer true, since most Swedes are pragmatic enough to plan their pregnancy to give birth when it suits their work schedule.”