"We welcome you, and we honor you this day, celebrating your light, as we begin our journey once more into the darkness."
—from a Prayer to the Sun
The summer solstice, also known as Litha, is an astronomical event that is the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. The earth is most tilted towards the sun, and revelers gather to celebrate in Pagan tradition. At the prehistoric monument Stonehenge in England, celebrants gather to watch the sun rise in the northeast and align perfectly with a particular heel stone in the morning, between June 20 or June 22 depending on the calendar. It falls on the 20th this year.
Christians celebrate the Feast of St. John the Baptist on this day too. Its rituals are often Pagan-inspired, as it was intended as a substitution for the solstice, to Christianize Pagans. In Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine, it's called Kupala Day or Ivan Kupala.
Adrian Ivakhiv is a scholar of Paganism who describes the evolution of St. John's Day from Pagan celebrations:
"…the summer solstice being sort of the peak of solar energy, the peak of life energy, of all that green stuff just flowering in its full force. So on the summer solstice and Midsummer's Night, there would have been all kinds of things going on, bonfires and rituals and whatnot. And that gets preserved to some extent in what's now St. John's Day, which is celebrated two weeks or 13 days later because the calendars have shifted apart."
A cleansing bonfire in which the person who jumps the highest is the happiest. (photo by Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images)
Fire is used symbolically throughout summer solstice celebrations in praise of the sun, to bring luck and to ward off evil spirits.
Though many rejoice this long day and long-awaited arrival of summer, the solstice is a reminder to some that we are now approaching winter, as the days following get progressively shorter.