The longest day of the year is called the summer solstice. In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice happens on June 20 or 21, when the sun's path reaches its farthest north position. This day also marks the beginning of the summer for this part of the world.
For people in the Southern Hemisphere, this happens exactly six months later on or around December 21, when the sun is in the farthest south. Because the sun's path is the longest of all, the summer solstice is the day when there is most daylight and, therefore, the night is the shortest. From this day on, nights slowly become longer, while days grow shorter for six months until the winter solstice happens.
The word solstice comes from Latin sol, meaning "sun", and sistere, meaning "to stand still"; however, the summer solstice is also known as "midsummer" in many cultures, because it is considered to be closer to the middle of summer than the beginning of it.
Festivals and holidays relating to the summer solstice started before Christianity. In ancient times, bonfires were lit on the night of the summer solstice because it was believed that evil spirits roamed freely as the sun was turning towards the south.
However, for Christians, this date also marks the birth of John the Baptist, an early Christian martyr (a person killed for their religious beliefs). For this reason, midsummer is celebrated as St. John's Day in a great number of European countries.In the Americas, native people like Mayas and Aztecs aligned their central structures with the shadows of both the summer and the winter solstice. Some Native American tribes in North America performed a Sun Dance to celebrate the longest day of the year. Because the summer solstice is so culturally significant for Native Americans, Canada celebrates June 21 as the National Indigenous Peoples Day.
For the ancient Romans, the summer solstice was important as a day devoted to Summanus, the god of nocturnal (of the night) thunder.
On June 20, 278 BC, the temple of Summanus was dedicated in the city of Rome. The night before the summer solstice, the Romans used to make wheel-shaped cakes called summanalia, which may have represented the sun. Usually, two dark animals such as black oxen were offered to Summanus as a sacrifice. This temple was struck by lightning in 197 BC.
Iran's midsummer festival Tirgan dates back to the ancient times. Initially, Tirgan was dedicated to Tir (or Tishtar), the god of rain. Celebrated on the day of the summer solstice, this festival gave Iranians an opportunity to pray to this god for a year without drought.
In today's Iran, Tigran festival starts in early July, in accordance with the Iranian calendar. Because it is associated with the god of rain, Tirgan is celebrated by splashing water.
Furthermore, children are given rainbow-colored bands to tie on their wrists and wear for ten days, after which they throw them into a stream. Sholezard, a rice-based dessert flavored with saffron and rose water, is traditionally served on Tirgan.
The midsummer's eve, which generally falls on June 21, is popularly celebrated in Northern Europe. It is a national holiday in Sweden and Finland.
In Sweden, this holiday, known as Midsommarafton ("Midsummer Eve" in Swedish), is observed for the entire week, starting on June 19. One of the traditions specific for this holiday is the gathering of people around a maypole, a tall wooden pole decorated with flowers, and singing and dancing. This event has ancient roots, and old Scandinavians probably performed it to celebrate fertility.
The Danish equivalent of this holiday is called Sankt Hans Aften (St. John's Eve). In this country, the midsummer's eve is celebrated with traditional foods such as smoked or pickled fish and strawberries. To honor their ancient roots, people also often light a bonfire and sing around it.
In present-day Wales, there are two holidays associated with St John. St John's Night of Midsummer (Gwyl Ifan Ganol Haf in Welsh) is celebrated on the night of the summer solstice.
Another similar holiday happens on the night of the winter solstice and is called St John's Night of Midwinter (Gwyl Ifan Ganol Gaeaf in Welsh).
Yet, these Welsh traditions goes back to the pagan Celtic people who marked the midpoint of summer by lighting huge bonfires to protect themselves against the evil spirits and jumping over the flame, hoping the highest jump would mark the height of that year's corn.
These kinds of celebrations were noted all over Britain. More traditionally in Wales agricultural fairs were held on this day, with much dancing and drinking.
In the past several decades, a great folk dancing festival called Gwyl Ifan is organized in the capital city of Cardiff. The festival welcomes folk dancers from all around the world, who jointly celebrate midsummer.
1. B | 2. A | 3. A | 4. C | 5. C | 6. A | 7. A | 8. C | 9. B | 10. A | 11. B | 12. C | 13. B | 14. C | 15. B | 16. C | 17. B | 18. B | 19. A | 20. C |21. B | 22. A | 23. B | 24. A