The summer solstice is the longest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere.
Summer celebrations have a a millennia-old history.
Popular celebrations involve lots of food, copious drinking, and bonfires.
Editor’s Note: This story originally ran in June 2013. Celebrate the start of summer by sharing your summer sky photos with CNN iReport. The best images will be featured in a gallery on CNN.com.
If Stonehenge is anything to go by, summer celebrations have a millennia-old history. While the ancient druids may have commemorated the fertility of the season, many of us are just happy to get outdoors.
In a lot of cultures, the solstice – officially the longest day of the year – marks the start of summer. In Scandinavia, where it’s known as Midsummer, it is one of the biggest holidays on the calendar. The day is celebrated with copious amounts of herring, vodka, singing, and a dance around the maypole. Throughout much of Europe, it’s referred to as St. John’s Day, and is honored with bonfires and dancing, and in some cases, a naked sprint across town.
But summer’s like that; it can inspire madness – and a little bit of genius too. We asked iReporters across the globe how they welcomed the change in season, and got some interesting answers…
Eat bizarre food
Certain foods are just summertime foods: ice cream, hot dogs, doughnut Sloppy Joes… wait, what?
As it happens, the San Diego Fair has a tradition of serving up unusual grub during the summer months, with the help of Chicken Charlies – a California state fair mainstay.
“Every year, I ring in the summer by trying the food at the fair,” says Californian Chris Morrow. She documented her husband’s first taste of a Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe – a version of the meaty sandwich served on a sweet, glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut.
Morrow described the treat as, “a taste conflict of sweet and savory that are not complimentary and don’t register at the same time.The confusion in your mouth is weird and awesome.”
For many, the solstice is a window into generations past. Paul Jackson, a half-Swedish, Kenyan-born resident of the UK, found an old family photograph in an album belonging to his mother.
“I love this photograph. It feels like a scene from a film,” he muses.
While Jackson won’t be celebrating the Midsummer this year, he says, “I always pause a moment to think of my Swedish relatives on Midsummer evening.”
For those living far from home, the day can be a chance to reconnect with one’s roots. Portland, Oregon, for instance, has a large Lithuanian community, and many choose to take part in a community gathering during Midsummer.
“We sing songs and dance until the sun sets,” recalls Darius Kuzmickas, who yearly joins the festivities, which he captured last year with his Canon camera.
Watch the sun (not) set
In 2009, Jorgen Nybrolin and his wife Karin decided to celebrate the holiday on a snowy mountaintop in the north of Sweden. They eschewed Stockholm’s grassy plains for the Riksgransen ski resort, where it was still bright during the midnight hour.
“This was my first time in 100% midnight sun,” recalls Karin. “We had so much energy. After snowboarding in the middle of the night, we went for after-ski in the sunshine at 2am. We had only four hours of sleep and weren’t even tired the next morning.”
Burn, baby, burn
In many parts of the world, it just wouldn’t be a solstice without a bonfire. Originally a pagan custom, the wood-burning ritual has since been appropriated into St. John’s Day. In Greece, the men folk like to show off by leaping over the massive flames, while in France a fire marks the beginning of an annual music festival (Fête de la Musique).
During the Norwegian midsummer (known locally Sankthansaften), celebrants go the extra mile. In the town of Bergan, youths from a local music corp build the world’s largest keg bonfire.
“It is the only one made out of classical kegs, as far as I know,” says Jon-Arne Belsaas, who documented the blaze in 2009.
Get in costume
For some solstice revelers, the day just isn’t complete without a costume. The druids at Stonehenge don white robes, while many Scandinavians slap on folk costumes.
Janto Marzuk, an Indonesian native who fell in love with Midsummer after relocating to Sweden (where he’s lived for 41 years), finds the garb enticing.
“The celebration begins with procession of men and women who are dressed up with their beautiful traditional clothes,” he notes.
In the U.S., one of the most elaborate solstice celebrations takes place in Santa Barbara. Each year, the three-day festival is accompanied by a parade, peopled with colorfully-costumed stiltwalkers, performance artists, Brazilian drummers, and kids donning masks, costumes, and painted faces.
Libations are as much a summer stalwart as, well, sunshine. For some celebrants, alcohol is a major draw.
“I usually don’t care much for traditions, but if it comes in the form of good food, drinks and great company I can endure it,” says Robban Kanto, who last year celebrated Midsummer for the first time since childhood in Zinkgruvan, Sweden.
As a hobby photographer, Kanto took it upon himself to document the festivities. “I used the camera to get out of the other [preparation] duties,” he jokes.
Hit the beach
For some, nothing epitomizes summer as perfectly as the beach. Victoria E. Yu, a 16-year old student with a penchant for photography, likes visiting the Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica Pier.
“Once you’re seated, the Ferris wheel begins to move at a pace that’s neither slow nor fast; just a perfectly smooth rotation. It’s exactly what an ideal summer is like: passing by neither too quickly nor too slowly,” she says.