What to do on the longest day of the year

Dawn over Stonehenge. Picture: ARTIST REMRAF

Dawn over Stonehenge. Picture: ARTIST REMRAF - Credit: citizenside.com

The summer solstice marking the longest day and shortest night of the year, is on June 21. Will you be heading for stonehenge for a bit of druidical observance or simply going to bed at the usual time and wondering why it’s not dark?

The summer solstice – a mystical day when spirits may roam; a day to revere the sun for the warmth and sustenance it brings us... or an excuse for a bit of a party.

Stonehenge has long been a focus, a prehistoric place of worship and celebration at the summer solstice for thousands of years.

You have to love English Heritage for acknowledging these ancient rites... publishing car park opening times for what they now term “Summer Solstice Managed Open Access”. It sort of takes the magic away, doesn’t it?

The organisation also issues guidelines and conditions of entry for this “peaceful and special occasion”, asking respect the stones which are regarded as sacred by many people.

The World Heritage Site of Stonehenge near Salisbury in Wiltshire. Picture: CHRIS ISON/PA WIRE

The World Heritage Site of Stonehenge near Salisbury in Wiltshire. Picture: CHRIS ISON/PA WIRE - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

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“English Heritage have been working closely with Wiltshire Police to ensure that everyone who comes to Stonehenge over Summer Solstice feels safe, and asks that all visitors bring only small bags and essential items with them. Bag searches will be in operation.” Yes, it has come to this.

I am reminded of the Asterix comic strip, set in Roman-occupied Gaul, in which the druid, Getafix, was able to romp around the countryside unhindered by bag searches and, if you were to frisk him, the likelihood is you would find a naught but a sprig of mistletoe and a phial of the magic potion that gives Asterix his super-strength.

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Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, gives us a night of magic and mischief in which lovers are confounded, fairies are duped and a local tradesman is turned into an ass. By the next morning, everything is tickety-boo – lovers and fairies reunited (not a website).

So how else might we celebrate the solstice? (source: www.timeanddate.com)

Stonehenge at sunrise. Picture: JAMES O DAVIES/ENGLISH HERITAGE (2007)

Stonehenge at sunrise. Picture: JAMES O DAVIES/ENGLISH HERITAGE (2007) - Credit: English Heritage

In ancient China, the summer solstice was observed by a ceremony to celebrate the Earth, femininity, and the “yin” forces. So, a girls’ night out, maybe.

In ancient Gaul, (France and parts of its neighbouring countries) the Midsummer celebration was called Feast of Epona. The celebration was named after a mare goddess who personified fertility and protected horses. In ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes, pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires which isn’t a good idea in tinder-bos dry conditions.

In North America, some tribes held ritual dances to honour the Sun. The Sioux were known to hold one of the most spectacular rituals which included cutting and raising a tree that would be considered a visible connection between the heavens and Earth and setting up teepees in a circle to represent the cosmos.

In Sweden and many parts of Finland people dance around Maypoles and homes are decorated with flower garlands, greenery, and tree branches.

In many homes across the globe this solstice, people will be watching World Cup football and drinking a couple of beers although this is not a tradition... not for the solstice, anyway.

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