In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice has a history of stirring libidos, and it’s no wonder.
The longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere kicks off the official start of summer and with it, the bounty of the harvest.
“A lot of children are born nine months after Midsummer in Sweden,” Jan-Öjvind Swahn, a Swedish ethnologist and the author of several books on the subject, told CNN before his death in 2016.
Midsummer is the Scandinavian holiday celebrating the summer solstice, which in 2019 falls on Friday, June 21. Swedish traditions include dancing around a maypole – a symbol which some view as phallic – and feasting on herring and copious amounts of vodka.
“Drinking is the most typical Midsummer tradition. There are historical pictures of people drinking to the point where they can’t go on anymore,” said Swahn.
“There used to be a tradition among unmarried girls, where if they ate something very salty during Midsummer, or else collected several different kinds of flowers and put these under their pillow when they slept, they would dream of their future husbands,” he said.
Pagan rites in Greece
There is a similar mythology about dreaming of one’s future spouse in parts of Greece. There, as in many European countries, the pagan solstice got co-opted by Christianity and rebranded as St. John’s Day. Still, in many villages in the country’s north, the ancient rites are still celebrated.
One of the oldest rituals is called Klidonas, and it involves local virgins gathering water from the sea.
The next day, all the women in the village gather, and take turns pulling out objects and reciting rhyming couplets that are meant to predict the romantic fortunes of the item’s owner. These days, however, the festival is more an excuse for the community of women to exchange bawdy jokes.
“In my village, the older women always seem to come up with the dirtiest rhymes,” says Eleni Fanariotou, who has filmed the custom. Later in the day, the sexes mingle and take turns jumping over a bonfire.
“It’s a good time to meet someone, because all the young people in the village go, and it’s a good opportunity to socialize. Plus, all the men like to show off, and make the biggest fire they can to jump through.”
A Slavic Cupid
In Eastern Europe, solstice celebrations fall on Ivan Kupala Day – a holiday with romantic connotations for many Slavs (“kupala” is derived from the same word as “cupid”). In 2020, Ivan Kupala Day starts on the evening of July 6 and ends of the evening of July 7.
“It was once believed that Kupala night was a time for people to fall in love, and that those celebrating it would be happy and prosperous throughout the year,” recalls Agnieszka Bigaj from the Polish tourist board.
According to Polish folklore, the man and woman in question would become a couple. Bonfires are also a large feature of the holiday, and it’s tradition for a couple to leap through the flames together while holding hands – if they don’t let go, it is said their love will last.
One of the largest solstice celebrations in the world, though, takes place at Stonehenge, in England, where thousands gather each year to bring in the summer season. While for many the event is an excuse to party in the lead up to the Glastonbury Festival, there is also a strong contingent of pagans and neo-druids who treat the day like the ultimate marriage ceremony.
“All druid rituals have an element of fertility, and the solstice is no exception,” King Arthur Pendragon, a senior archdruid, told CNN.