Summer solstice: 10 places to party all night in the sunlight
Sun worshippers, rejoice! The summer solstice is here and it’s time to celebrate from dawn to dusk—and in some places that means all night long.
People have been celebrating the longest day of the year for millennia. In ancient Greece, some marked the start of a new year on the summer solstice. Many pagan tribes in ancient northern and central Europe honored the cosmic event with bonfire rituals, including ones where couples jumped through flames to predict the year's crop height. The Mayas and Aztecs built many of their major structures on this day, in order to precisely align the buildings with the shadows cast by the summer and winter solstices. Native American tribes performed ceremonial Sun Dances to call upon the Sun’s powers of regeneration and rebirth. annotation
Today, cities around the world still fete this solar affair with flair. Although only the Arctic Circle will get to bask in 24 hours of sunshine, there’s still plenty of light to be had throughout the Northern Hemisphere (most of the continental U.S. will enjoy 14 to 16 hours of it). Below are 10 of the brightest spots on the planet to party on June 21.
Participants prepare at the annual Fremont Summer Solstice Day Parade in Seattle
Google the Fremont Fair and Solstice Parade, and NSFW warnings pop up all over the place. Seems Seattle residents really get into the solstice, warming under the long day of sun, some in body-painted birthday suits. But the 43-year-old festival is much more than nude party-goers—local bands, street performers, art cars, and the like draw more than 100,000 people each year to “celebrate the quirky community of Fremont.” (And really, the event is family-friendly.)
Blahver, a geothermal spring in Iceland, photographed at sunset around midnight.
When we’re talking long days of sun, not much compares to Iceland. In Reykjavik, for example, the sun sets just after midnight, and rises once again just before 3 a.m. In all honesty though, it never really gets dark during the summer. Plan a visit to the Secret Solstice Midnight Sun Music Festival. This year, the 100-plus roster of bands includes everyone from Wu-Tang to FKA twigs to Hercules & Love Affair. Then, after three days of music and dancing, have a magical soak in the Blue Lagoon.
Mystery surrounds these ancient stone monuments, and if possible, even more so during the summer solstice. Pilgrims—at times 30,000-some—arrive from all over the world to watch the sun rise at this sacred site. Get there after 7 p.m. on June 20 and plan to spend the evening: sunset will happen at 9:26 p.m., with sunrise, cheering, and drumming, about eight hours later at 4:52 a.m.
Yogis honor the summer solstice in Time Square
New York City
Not the first place you’d think of for a solstice event, but New York’s Times Square is in its 13th year of gathering yogis together for a day of free classes in the streets. As the Times Square Alliance says: “Throughout history, many cultures have associated the summer solstice with a renewal of mind, body and spirit and a celebration of creative expression—of art, music and the sense of joyfulness and fun that the sunshine evokes in all of us. And what better place to celebrate than in Times Square—for the past hundred years, America's center for creativity, energy, bright lights, and over-the-top artistic expression.”
Buddhist temple in Can Tho, Mekong Delta, Vietnam
In Vietnam, the summer solstice, or Tet Doan Ngo, is a time when offerings are made to the God of Death to ward off disease and evils. Locals erect altars around the country in temples and public venues, participate in ceremonies led by Buddhist monks, and eat com ruou (a fermented sticky rice) and plums or other sour fruit to kill off “inner insects."
Key West is known for its parties, and its Midsummer Night’s Dream & Spectacle is a doozy. Now in its ninth year, the festival features interactive art projects and costumed merrymaking, with “musicians, face-painters, singers, dancers, sculptors, actors, poets, illusionists and storytellers—coming together in celestial celebration.” Wear your finest in fairy wings and glitter, and vie for the title of Solstice King or Queen.
Ancient Greeks honored the solstice, and modern Greeks, both on the isles and the mainland, do too. From ascending Mount Olympus (a 2,500-year-old tradition) to burning May Day wreaths in communal bonfires and then leaping over the flames, rituals of cleansing and renewal are predominant here. On Ios, the Greeks take charge of Midsummer, with drinking and dancing and processions from the main square to the beach and back into the village again.
Meadow of lupine flowers in Alaska
It isn’t hard to find ways to use up 22 hours of functional daylight in Alaska. From Anchorage’s Summer Solstice Festival to Fairbanks’ Midnight Sun Festival (known as the largest single-day event in the state and including a 110-year-old midnight baseball game played without artificial light by the Alaska Goldpanners), almost all of the state’s major cities put on travel-worthy events. Of course, you could also embrace your truly wild side and head off into the backcountry and welcome midsummer by hunting seasonally abundant berries and lupine flowers.
Mount Shasta, California
You could head to Santa Barbara, California, for the Summer Solstice Celebration, three days of music, dance, food and drink, and, this year, the 41st annual Solstice Parade. But if that’s too much people-energy for you, perhaps a midnight ascent up Mount Shasta will fit the bill instead. The local Shasta Indian tribe, for whom it was most likely named, believed that the volcano, which appears to rise up out of nowhere, was the center of creation. It remains a sacred entity (and a focal point for New Age spirituality for more than 100 different groups) today. Catch folks meditating, drumming, and communing at the Quantum Healing Center & Shasta Base Camp before you head up. When you hit the summit, the stars will feel so close you can almost touch them (of course, you might just be seeing UFOs).
The summer solstice, or Midsummer, is so important to the Swedes that it’s a national holiday. Many citizens choose to take their five-week annual vacation at this time of year, and Midsummer Eve in the countryside is the is the perfect way to kick it off. People dance around maypoles and bonfires and pick flowers for festive hair wreaths and crowns (even for men and boys). Visitors can taste a traditional Midsummer meal of pickled herring, boiled new potatoes, strawberries, and nubbe (Swedish vodka). If you’re here at this time of year, be sure to stop at the Skansen Open-Air Museum in Stockholm for a range of festivities, and stay up all night: the sun never really sets tonight.
For more on the summer solstice's cultural and historical significance, check out Maria Konnikova's Scientific American blog post, "Why we celebrate the summer solstice."