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Summer solstice 2019: how the longest day is celebrated around the world, from shamans in Mongolia to Stonehenge druids

Also known as midsummer, the summer solstice has held significance for many cultures since prehistory, and many festivals and rituals endure

The summer solstice marks the occasion when the Earth’s poles are at their maximum tilt towards the Sun, creating the longest day of the year.

This year, the northern hemisphere is marking the solstice on 21 June, with the UK experiencing 16 hours and 38 minutes of daylight.

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Also known as midsummer (although, confusingly, it marks the start of the season by the astronomical calculation), the year’s longest day has held huge significance for many cultures since prehistory.

Many of the early festivals and rituals attached to the solstice from around the world still exist to this day – here are some of the most noteworthy around the world.

UK

The iconic image of druids gathering at Stonehenge has become synonymous with the summer solstice, which has been associated with paganism for thousands of years.

Known by pagans as Litha, the solstice marks the only day that the rising run reaches the middle of the stones when shining on the formation’s central altar, and draws large crowds each year.

Spain

Spain celebrates midsummer with a traditional party in honour of Saint John the Baptist, held on the evening of 23 June.

Despite the Christian elements, the pagan origins of the festivities are honoured with the widespread lighting of bonfires, and the gathering of traditional medicinal plants, which are either hung from doorways in bunches or dipped in bathing water.

USA

The International Day of Yoga has been held on 21 June – the most common date for the summer solstice – since 2015, when it was inaugurated by the UN.

Every year, thousands of yogis make the trip to New York’s Times Square to mark the occasion by taking part in a free class held in the city’s iconic heart.

Mongolia

Under communist rule, the ancient Mongolian practice of shamanism was banned for 70 years, but has had a resurgence since 1992.

It is widely regarded as Mongolia’s national religion, and a key facet of the nation’s identity, with the fire rituals attached to the summer solstice therefore serving a vital cultural purpose.

Ukraine

In Ukraine, midsummer celebrations are (like those in Spain) held in honour of John the Baptist, known in old Kyiv Rus’ as Ivan Kupala.

Ivan Kupala Day takes on many of the pagan origins attached to the solstice, with young men and women leaping over flames to cleanse themselves of ill fortune.

Sweden

Although to people in the UK the maypole is more commonly seen in the month of May, in Sweden the ‘majstång’ (or ‘midsommarstång) is associated with the period of the solstice.

Beyond erecting and dancing around the pole, Swedish traditions such as decorating homes with greenery still endure, with midsummer’s eve a de facto public holiday.

Finland

In Finland, the summer solstice was originally known as “Ukon juhla”, after the Finnish god Ukko, before it was re-branded under Christianity as “Juhannus”, again in honour of John the Baptist.

Again, though, the pagan origins still shine through, with bonfires by lakes and the sea and more out-of-season maypoles amid days of celebration in a nation which, because of its location in the Arctic Circle, barely sees the sun go down at all.

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