Viking feasts and Norse mythology. Pagan revelry and Druid rituals at Stonehenge.
There’s a reason the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere—which falls on or around June 21 each year—is most closely associated in our collective imagination with the ancient cultures of northern Europe. The day marks the moment when the Earth, revolving on its tilted axis in space, is inclined at its sharpest angle, resulting in the longest period of sunlight of any day of the year for the top half of the planet. And the amount of daylight climbs the farther north you go.
That’s why even today the world’s biggest celebrations around the summer solstice happen in northern climes. In the far reaches of Europe—from England and Germany to Scandinavia and the Baltic states—a day is set aside for activities such as the lighting of bonfires and dancing around a maypole. In Iceland, a country so far north it abuts the Arctic Circle, the Secret Solstice Music Festival avails itself of three straight days of midnight sun.
But even if you can’t make it all the way to northern Europe, there are still plenty of ways to celebrate the solstice. Here are nine ideas to get your wanderlust going.
1. On the day most associated with the summer solstice, June 21, people in more than 700 cities in 120 countries across the world will celebrate Fête de la Musique, or Make Music Day. You don't have to be a maestro to participate; every kind of musician—young or old, amateur or professional—is invited to take their exuberance to the streets, parks, and public spaces where they live. Events are taking place in 38 cities across the United States, including Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the band Semisonic—remember that '90s song “Closing Time”?—will lead a ukulele jam session, and Detroit, Michigan, where a massive group is set to gather for a live performance in front of the Institute of Art.
2. The summer solstice also happens to coincide with the International Day of Yoga, which celebrants will honor by practicing the body-mind discipline around the world, from Chandigarh in northern India to a mass yoga class in New York City's Times Square.
3. In Canada—another far-north nation where the solstice is experienced intensely—the astronomical event falls on National Aboriginal Day, when the country celebrates the cultures of its indigenous inhabitants. Ottawa celebrates the two events together at its annual Summer Solstice Aboriginal Arts Festival, featuring storytelling, a powwow, aboriginal crafts, and family-friendly attractions such as stilt walkers and a petting zoo.
4. On or near the solstice, communities across the U.S. mark the occasion with homespun solstice festivals. Notable among them are the Downtown Solstice Festival in Anchorage, Alaska, and the Midsummer Festival in Lindsborg, Kansas, also known as Little Sweden USA. In others, the solstice hoopla draws revelers from near and far. Best bets: the Solstice Parade in Santa Barbara, California, and Fremont Solstice Weekend in Seattle.
5. If you happen to be in Cairo, Egypt, on June 21, head over to Giza on the other side of the Nile. At dusk, if you can find a vantage point at or behind the Sphinx, the sun will set perfectly between two of the Great Pyramids.
6. In many Christian communities around the world, the summer solstice is synonymous with St. John’s Day, the feast day associated with John the Baptist. Also known as Midsummer, the occasion is commemorated with parties and merriment from Italy to Brazil, where, due to the fact that the country straddles the Equator, the solstice is a veritable nonevent.
7. Speaking of countries around the Earth’s midsection, the summer solstice also happens to fall near International Surfing Day. So even if you’re far away from the land of the midnight sun you can spend the day catching waves.
8. If you're curious to explore one of the stranger and more controversial ways the solstice is commemorated, book a flight to China. According to the South China Morning Post, in Yulin, in the Guangxi Province, and in a handful of other cities around the country, locals mark the longest day of the year by eating dog meat—which is said to ward off bad spirits and boost sexual performance, both of which have no scientific basis. Perhaps unsurprisingly, protests against the tradition by animal rights activists have been growing in recent years.
9. If you’re committed to pursuing the classic Druid route when it comes to celebrating the solstice, but can’t make it to England, set your sights on one of the many Stonehenge replicas around the United States. Roadside America has put together a handy roundup of the most noteworthy imitations of the mysterious Neolithic structure for your convenience.