How important is the Sun?
The sun supports life on our planet. It provides the light that plants need for photosynthesis to create their own energy – plants which then create the oxygen and air filtering humans and animals need to live. It could be said that the sun = life.
It makes sense, then, that humans from all different cultures and beliefs reserve some of their most mystical and creative celebrations to honor the Day of the Sun.
What is the Summer Solstice?
The summer solstice is the point during the earth’s rotation when our planet is most extremely tilted toward the sun, creating the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and the shortest day of the year in the southern hemisphere. On this day, the sun stays closer to the horizon than any other day in the earth’s rotation. The solstice is also a welcome sign to many of us that the summer months have begun!
Why is the Summer Solstice Important?
Because we are part of nature, it helps us understand how to function and make meaning when we pay attention to and follow the flow of the seasons. This is why celebrating equinoxes (the point in the earth’s rotation when day and night are equal lengths in both hemispheres) and solstices is important. Just like changing out cotton sheets for fleece sheets when the winter months arrive or preparing the soil for planting in the spring, we prepare ourselves as well as our surroundings for a new phase of change. When we become so immersed in modern society that we disconnect from the natural processes of the earth, we risk disconnecting ourselves from our inevitable, natural flow. It’s important to know what each new phase is going to bring us –emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
The summer solstice is the beginning of a period of patience. During spring, we experience a lot of growth, transformation, action, and planting. Now, at the start of summer, we witness uncertainty and patience as we let the sun take over – to nourish what’s already been planted. The summer solstice at first glance seems full of light and joy. But it is also seen by some cultures as a time of darkness, mystery, and inwardness.
Five of the Most Mystical Summer Solstice Celebrations
Many of us probably do not know these solstice traditions as well as we do other holidays. The cultures in the northern hemisphere really pulled out the symbolic stops to create diverse traditions for the summer solstice! From fertility bracelets to fire jumping, here are five cultural traditions that really put the “mist” in mystical!
1. Stonehenge Sunrise & Sunset | England
If you’re looking for a mystical experience, Stonehenge is the place to be this solstice! Debate rages around the origins of this historic site, but it is most commonly held that it was built as a prehistoric temple to align with the phases of the sun. On the summer solstice, the first rays of the sun rise behind the Heel Stone and shine directly into the circle of stones. Thousands of tourists travel to Stonehenge each year to celebrate the solstice in its undefinable circle. And it has become a tradition over the decades for spiritualists, druids, and worshippers to spend the entire night before the solstice inside its mystical shape, sleeping on blankets, communing, and singing.
Pretend you’re a Stonehenge tourist and find an outdoor spot near your home to camp out and watch the sunset!
2. Dragon Boat Festival | China
One of China’s top 4 festivals, the Dragon Boat Festival is a tradition that sees the solstice’s symbolism as slightly more sinister than other cultures. Historically, people believed the start of the warm months was a time for poison to spread due to the many epidemics that occurred at this time. This festival, then, focuses its energies on warding off evil spirits, cleaning house, and promoting health. Those who celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival hang fragrant mugwort leaves from their doorframes, wear perfume pouches, drink fermented wine, and race dragon-shaped boats in worship of the god of water (Dragon god).
Here is a how-to origami video to create perfume pouches. Make one of your own and fill it with your favorite-smelling herb!
3. Mystical Fire Festivals of Tirol | Austria
It doesn’t get much more solstice-magical than the fire festivals that take place throughout Tirol in Western Austria. During the week of the summer solstice, townsfolk throughout Tirol make the trek from the valley up into the mountains to set ablaze bonfires that light up the night. This tradition has existed since the Middle Ages and is a solstice symbol all over Austria of how the day cannot be defeated by the dark – and even in the waiting period of summer, there is nourishment.
Get some friends together for a bonfire tonight and share with them about the Tirol fire festivals.
4. Kupala Night | Ukraine
Ivan Kupala Night, the Slavic name for John the Baptist, interweaves Christian and pagan symbolism in a solstice celebration of fertility and healing. Women often wear traditional embroidered outfits and make flower fertility crowns to float on the river to divine their future husbands. Effigies of Slavic pagan gods representing the water and sun are married in a ceremony, blue ribbons are tied on willow trees while participants make wishes, and bonfires are built for participants to jump over in hopes of purification, as a test of bravery, and to strengthen familial bonds.
(We think of those in Ukraine during this solstice as the war continues to rage and jump over the solstice bonfires in hopes of peace and healing for Ukraine.)
Tie some blue and yellow ribbons on a branch in your yard to remind yourself of your wishes and as a sign of remembrance for Ukraine.
5. Tirgan Festival | Iran
This Iranian solstice festival is a rain festival that focuses its attention on asking for replenishment and rejuvenation. This festival is celebrated on a day in the Gregorian calendar called Tir (which means arrow) and is based on a legend about an archer whose well-shot arrow brought rain after a drought. Celebrants weave bracelets with multi-colored ribbons to represent different weather patterns. The bracelets are worn for 10 days, after which they are thrown into waterways as a request to the rain-keeper, Tishtraya, to bless the land with water. Those who participate also recite poetry, eat local dishes such as spinach soup, and dance.
Weave your own rain bracelet today and find a water-poem that speaks to you.
There are so many ways for us to use our creativity to commemorate this solstice. Let us know what you come up with by DMing us on our Instagram page @nj_institute_of_nature!
At NJIN, we are passionate about helping young people discover their earth-purpose. Our programs are designed to offer structured curriculum and real-world experiences within a space that encourages students to roam freely in nature, growing their innovation, self-exploration, and experimentation. Join us!