As the days grow longer and the temperatures rise, cultures worldwide celebrate the season in unique and vibrant ways, adding color and rhythm to the summer months.
This blog post is an invitation for students and lifelong learners to embark on a virtual journey that will introduce you to a wide array of summer traditions around the world; from the fiery spectacle of Austria’s Solstice Bonfires to the celestial celebration of Japan’s Tanabata Festival, from the whimsical Solstice Parade in Seattle to the atmospheric Midnight Sun Festival in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Our goal is to bring global cultures right into your living room, fostering an understanding and appreciation of the diversity that makes our world so beautifully rich. Not only will these fascinating traditions provide an exciting backdrop to your summer, but they also serve as a bridge, connecting us to different peoples, their histories, and ways of life.
We hope that these narratives of joy, community, and celebration will inspire your curiosity and spark an interest in further exploration. To support this journey, don’t forget to check out the ‘Summer Learning Resources‘ section on our site. It’s brimming with engaging materials that can deepen your understanding of these traditions and offer exciting insights into more world cultures.
1. The Solstice Bonfires, Austria
The Solstice Bonfires, or Sonnwendfeuer, are a unique tradition in Austria, particularly in the alpine regions of Tyrol and Vorarlberg. This tradition occurs during the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, typically on June 21st.
The bonfires are lit on mountainsides and hills all across these regions, creating an awe-inspiring sight as the sun sets and darkness descends. These bonfires are often designed and arranged to form intricate symbols or figures when seen from afar. Some designs include Christian symbols or regional and community symbols.
The origins of this tradition can be traced back to pre-Christian times. Ancient Germanic tribes are believed to have lit the bonfires to celebrate the peak of the sun’s power and to protect themselves from evil spirits. Today, the practice has been adapted into Christian traditions and local folklore.
The summer solstice bonfires have become a significant social event for local communities. People gather around the fires to celebrate the solstice, sharing food, drink, music, and dance. For visitors, it is a unique cultural experience that beautifully merges history, community, and the natural world.
2. The Midnight Sun Festival , Fairbanks, Alaska
The Midnight Sun Festival is an annual summer event in Fairbanks, Alaska, celebrating the summer solstice and the phenomenon of the midnight sun, where the sun remains visible at midnight due to the town’s far-north location. Held on the longest day of the year, around June 21, the festival gathers thousands of locals and tourists alike for a lively, 12-hour street fair that runs from noon to midnight.
With over 30 live performances across multiple stages, including music, dance, and storytelling, along with an array of food stalls, arts and crafts vendors, and traditional Alaskan games, the Midnight Sun Festival offers a unique, vibrant celebration that honors the natural wonder of endless daylight in the heart of summer.
3. The Solstice Parade, Seattle, USA
The Solstice Parade is indeed a vibrant and unique celebration that takes place in Seattle, USA, in honor of the summer solstice. An integral part of the annual Fremont Fair, the parade is known for its free-spirited, community-based approach to celebration. Perhaps its most famous feature is the “Solstice Cyclists,” also known as the “Painted Naked Cyclists,” who kick-start the parade.
These individuals, often in the hundreds, ride their bicycles through the parade route wearing nothing but helmets, shoes, and body paint in a variety of elaborate and colorful designs. The rest of the parade is no less enchanting, featuring a collection of beautifully designed floats and performers, all of which are human-powered in keeping with the parade’s commitment to creativity and sustainability.
Musicians, stilt walkers, giant puppets, and dancers all make their way along the parade route, making the Solstice Parade a true celebration of art, creativity, and the start of summer.
4 Ivan Kupala Day, Russia
Ivan Kupala Day is a traditional Slavic holiday celebrated in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus around the summer solstice, usually on July 23/24. The holiday is associated with the celebration of summer, fertility, and purification. On this day, people partake in various rituals and traditions, many of which are connected to water, light, and fire.
One such tradition includes young women floating flower wreaths in rivers while young men try to capture them, in the process potentially finding a future spouse. Another popular tradition involves jumping over bonfires, a practice believed to purify the soul and bring health and prosperity. The celebration is named after John the Baptist (Ivan is John in Russian and Kupala is derived from the Slavic word for bathing).
5. Tanabata, Japan
Tanabata, also known as the Star Festival, is a beloved summer tradition in Japan, typically celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th month. Rooted in a romantic legend, it tells the story of two celestial beings, Orihime and Hikoboshi, who are deeply in love but separated by the Milky Way and only allowed to meet once a year, on the night of Tanabata.
To celebrate this occasion, people write their wishes or personal aspirations on small, colorful strips of paper called “tanzaku,” and then hang them onto bamboo branches. Other decorations, such as origami and paper lanterns, are also commonly added.
After the festival, the decorated bamboo branches are usually set afloat on a river or burned to send off the wishes. The festival is often marked by lively celebrations including parades, traditional dance performances, and fireworks. It’s a colorful, vibrant tradition that unifies communities and fosters a sense of hope and goodwill.
6. Midsummer’s Eve , Sweden
Midsummer’s Eve in Sweden is one of the most important and joyous holidays of the year, falling close to the summer solstice, typically celebrated between June 19-25. It’s a day when Swedes come together to mark the longest day of the year and welcome the start of the summer season.
The festivities often begin with the picking of flowers and the creation of wreaths, which are used to decorate the maypole – a key symbol of the holiday. This tall wooden pole is adorned with greenery and flowers, then erected in an open space. The highlight of the celebration is the traditional dance around the maypole, with both children and adults participating in this merry frolic.
The songs accompanying the dance often have amusing and playful themes. Alongside these activities, feasting is a big part of the day, with traditional foods such as pickled herring, new potatoes, and strawberries, typically accompanied by schnapps. It’s a holiday that encapsulates the warmth and light of Swedish summer and community spirit.
7. Sunrise at Stonehenge
Sunrise at Stonehenge, particularly during the summer solstice, is a truly magical and spiritual experience. Located in Wiltshire, England, Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument believed to be built around 3000-2000 BC. This ancient site is composed of a circular setting of standing stones, each around 13 feet high, seven feet wide, and weighing around 25 tons.
During the summer solstice, the sun rises behind the Heel Stone, the ancient entrance to the Stone Circle, and rays of sunlight are channelled into the centre of the monument. It’s believed that the monument was aligned to face the summer solstice sunrise, which has led many to think that Stonehenge was used to mark solstices and equinoxes.
On this day, thousands of people, including pagans, druids, and those simply interested in the history of the place, gather to celebrate the longest day of the year. As the sun rises, the crowds often cheer, drum, and sometimes engage in silent meditation. The atmosphere is one of celebration, mysticism, and respect for the power and beauty of nature. The combination of the history, mystery, and natural phenomena makes a summer solstice sunrise at Stonehenge a unique and enchanting experience.
8. Juhannus (Midsummer), Finland
Juhannus, also known as Midsummer, is one of the most significant celebrations in Finland. Held in late June to mark the summer solstice, it’s a national holiday that celebrates the longest day of the year when the sun barely sets.
Traditionally, Finns leave cities and towns for the countryside to spend time near water, such as lakes or the sea, as being close to nature is a significant part of the celebration. Many Finns have summer cottages, which are often the destination for midsummer celebrations.
Bonfires, known as kokko, are a central part of the festivities, believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. People also decorate their homes and boats with birch branches and flowers to celebrate the bloom of nature. Dancing and singing around the midsummer pole is another common tradition.
In the Finnish archipelago and coastal areas, old boats are sometimes burned in the bonfires. Saunas are heated up, and it’s traditional to bathe in the gentle steam, often whisking each other with birch branches.
A somewhat mystical tradition is also related to Juhannus: it is believed that if a young woman places seven different species of flowers under her pillow on Midsummer night, she will dream of her future spouse.
9. Astrofest, Croatia
Astrofest is an annual event held in the summer months in Višnjan, Croatia. The festival is a celebration of astronomy and space science and is one of the largest events of its kind in the region. The festival includes lectures and workshops led by prominent scientists and astronomers, as well as night sky observation sessions using telescopes.
Astrofest is held at Višnjan Observatory, which is renowned for its asteroid and comet discovery program. This festival aims to promote science education and foster a love for astronomy, making it a perfect destination for space enthusiasts.
10. Simmer Dim, Scotland
Simmer Dim is a traditional event celebrated in Shetland, Scotland, during the summer solstice, usually on the longest day of the year. The term “Simmer Dim” refers to the twilight that occurs during summer nights in Shetland, where it never gets entirely dark due to its northerly latitude.
During the Simmer Dim, locals enjoy the midnight sun with a variety of outdoor activities. The Shetland Folk Festival, held around this time, often extends into the Simmer Dim, providing a musical background to the celebrations.