Summer Solstice celebrations
A solstice (from Latin sol (sun) + stet (standing)) is simply the point in the year when the sun appears to be at its highest or lowest point in the sky. The earth's wobble means that this date and time varies from year to year, but it is easy to predict. The North Pole is tilted 23.45° toward the Sun, and at the time of the summer solstice, the noonday sun is overhead at the Tropic of Cancer.
The summer solstice is the date of the longest day, when the sun appears to be at its most northerly - over the years, many peoples have celebrated this day in many ways.
The Druids celebrated Alban Heruin. "This midsummer festival celebrates the apex of Light, sometimes symbolized in the crowning of the Oak King, God of the waxing year. At his crowning, the Oak King falls to his darker aspect, the Holly King, God of the waning year..." (Alban Eiler, "Light of the Earth"). It was a celebration of the midpoint between spring equinox and winter equinox, and usually took place in places of power, especially sacred grove and standing stones or stone circles such as Stonehenge.
These Ancient British traditions included the lighting of beacons or bonfires, both to provide light and to ward off evil spirits, as this time of year was considered almost as important to the faery folk and spirit world as Halloween. In Christianised Britain, these celebrations were incorporated into the St. John's Eve celebrations on June 24th, some of which continue to this day. Lanterns would be lit, and a vigil held until sunrise.
As in Britain, other European pagans celebrated with bonfires. The celebrations had to do with fertility and love - it was said that lovers jumping through the flames of fires would be blessed. Maidens would learn of their future husbands by gazing into the fire.
In Sweden, a tree was decorated, and people danced about it. Communal bathing also guaranteed rain for crops. In ancient Gaul, the Feast of Epona (goddess of fertility and agriculture) was held, during which a mare was led around the streets. The Russians feared the witches who were abroad this night, gathered in and around pine and linden trees, and people gathered herbs to make charms to ward off evil.
The festival of Vestalia was held from June 5th to 15th to honour Vesta, goddess of the hearth. This was the only time when married women were able to enter the shrine of Vesta - normally only the vestal virgins were permitted inside.
The Natchez tribe worshipped the sun and believed that their ruler was descended from him. Every summer they held a first fruits ceremony - harvesting corn was prohibited until after the feast.
Men in the Hopi tribe dressed up as Kachinas - the spirits of rain and fertility who were also the messengers between mankind and the Gods. At Midsummer, the Kachinas were believed to leave the villages to spend the next six months in the mountains, where they would visit the dead underground and hold ceremonies on behalf of the living.
Many tribes constructed stone circles, notably Native Americans have created countless stone structures linked to equinoxes and solstices. One, referred to as Calendar One, in Vermont is in a natural amphitheatre of about 20 acres. Rocks and markers around the perimeter mark the rise and set of many stars, notably the Sun.
The Bighorn Medicine Wheel near Sheridan, Wyoming is perhaps the most famous of the 40 or more similar wheels on the high plains area of the Rocky Mountains. At Bighorn, the centre of a small cairn, that is external to the main wheel, lines up with the centre of the wheel and the sun rising at the summer equinox.
Celebrations centered around the feminine yin forces, and the subsequent fertility of the earth.
Of the neopagan groups, Wicca is the most common. Their summer solstice sabbat is often called Midsummer or Litha. Wiccans often celebrate the sabbat on the evening before, in keeping with the Druids, for whom the new day began at dusk. For Wiccans, it is a time of healing and divination.
Solstice dates and times can be calculated in advance - here are the dates for the Northern Hemisphere until 2020. Someone remind me nearer the time to update again! Times are given in GMT.
2000 : 21st June at 0148
2001 : 21st June at 0738
2002 : 21st June at 1324
2003 : 21st June at 1910
2004 : 20th June at 0057
2005 : 21st June at 0646
2006 : 21st June at 1226
2007 : 21st June at 1806
2008 : 20th June at 2359
2009 : 21st June at 0545
2010 : 21st June at 1128
2011 : 21st June at 1716
2012 : 20th June at 2309
2013 : 21st June at 0504
2014 : 20th June at 1051
2015 : 21st June at 1638
2016 : 20th June at 2234
2017 : 21st June at 0424
2018 : 21st June at 1007
2019 : 21st June at 1554
2020 : 20th June at 2143