The longest day of the year, 21 June, the summer solstice, is when the sun seems to stop in the sky and never go down. At the Arctic Polar Circle that’s exactly how it is: the sun never sets.
The summer solstice, the beginning of the warmest season, is an event that for many centuries has been celebrated with rites and rituals associated with fertility, love and sexuality. In Finland large parties are still organized the weekend following the summer solstice: trips out to homes in the countryside, excursions, barbecues with friends and bonfires at midnight.
Fire is a recurring element in these traditions. In Finland the God Ukko, the god of love and fertility, but also the god of Heaven, and so of lightning and fire, was celebrated during the solstice. According to some ancient pagan rites, young couples had to blow the flames of a bonfire together to have luck in love. Lovers also wore garlands of flowers and herbs to chase away evil spirits.
Summer solstice: a magical moment for finding love
The summer solstice is not only a celebration for couples, but it also represents a magical moment for singles looking for love. In some ancient traditions, young women recited certain prayers with a special amulet that they wore over their heart, or kept under their pillow. Another ritual involved girls peeling an apple in a circular direction without breaking the peel. The peel that had fallen to the ground was then examined to see if it suggested the initials of the future lover. Who remembers that little game you used to play with the stem of an apple as a child? You would twist it as the letters of the alphabet were recited. The letter spoken when the stem came off indicated the initial of the beloved.
According to another tradition, those seeking love collected a dozen flowers, all different from each other, and put them under their pillow. On the night of the solstice, their future wife or husband would appear in their dreams. Otherwise you could try going into a forest to look for a spring or a well. At midnight the face of your beloved would appear in the reflections on the water.
In another rite, instead, you have to go to a high, isolated place at dawn, such as a hill, to hear the surrounding noises. If you heard music, a wedding was imminent; but if a baby crying was heard, a son would soon arrive. The direction from which the sound or music came would also indicate where the future lover would come from.
Summer solstice, traditions in the rest of the world
Summer solstice traditions are very popular in Nordic countries such as Sweden and Finland, but also in other parts of the world. In Egypt special ceremonies were organized to honour the Goddess Vesta: a bonfire was lit, and until the ashes of the bonfire were transported away from the Nile, copulation was not permitted. In the United Kingdom, Stonehenge is certainly the most evocative place from which to observe the sunrise of the summer solstice, when the sunlight is perfectly aligned with the imposing stones of Stonehenge.
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