Saturday’s vernal equinox marks the start of spring

In the UK, the summer solstice was famously marked on Stonehenge by pagans thousands of years ago

What is the summer solstice?

The summer solstice occurs when the planet’s geographical pole in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere is most greatly inclined towards the sun.

In many countries around the world, this traditionally meant a time to relax, as it fell halfway between the start of the planting and harvesting seasons. In many cultures, traditions have centered on the day for centuries or even millennia. Notably, it marks the longest day of the year as well in terms of sunlight.

What is a solstice?

A solstice is one of two days a year – either a summer or winter solstice – in which the sun reaches either its lowest or highest point in the sky at noontime, marking both the shortest and longest days of the year. 

When is summer solstice?

The summer solstice always takes place from June 20 to June 22 in the Northern Hemisphere. In 2021, it will take place on Monday, June 21.

What does summer solstice mean?

Summer solstice marks the official start of summer on the longest day of the year, with that usually being June 21 in the Northern Hemisphere and December 21 in the Southern Hemisphere. 

For many cultures around the world, a number of unique traditions – some of which date back millennia – are held on the summer solstice. This is particularly prevalent in many European countries since it marks the midway point between the traditional planting and harvesting seasons. 

In many ancient cultures, the day was also believed to have special meaning to them, with several believing that the ‘veil’ between the physical and spirit worlds was the thinnest on the date. 

Royal Observatory astronomer Dr Ed Bloomer told MailOnline: ‘The [vernal] equinox marks the start of astronomical spring, and historically keeping an eye on the motions of celestial objects was important for timekeeping.

‘In turn, accurate astronomy was vital for farmers, seafarers, religious observations, and indeed anyone who wanted to keep track of things.’ 

Summer solstice traditions

In the UK, the summer solstice was famously marked on Stonehenge by pagans thousands of years ago, as the rising sun only reaches the centre of the stone circle on one day of the year. 

The ancient monument was built between 3,000 and 1,600 B.C. and though its exact purpose is still shrouded in mystery, pagans are believed to have used it to mark the summer solstice as they believed the day possessed special power and meaning. 

Elsewhere in the UK, the day is still often marked by Maypole dancing, picnics and bonfires. 

The Golowan Festival in Penzance, England is another popular summer solstice event in the UK. 

Sweden also marks the day with Maypole and folk dances, feasts featuring traditional foods and other customs. Norway and Finland often mark the day with bonfire celebrations while Iceland also celebrates with music, dancing and other traditions.

Latvia is also known for its jubilant summer solstice celebrations, with revelers partaking in singing folk songs, dancing, lighting bonfires and huge feasts. In Spain, bonfires and firework displays are common.

Revelers in Russia and Ukraine often know the day as Ivan’s Day or Kupala Night, celebrating with bonfires and parties. 

Celebrants in Austria mark the day by lighting bonfires across the country’s mountainous terrain, a tradition that dates back to medieval times, while revelers in China often celebrate with traditional meals and dragon boat races.