Summer Solstice rituals date back to ancient times; but the items below are all general come-one-come-all celebrations with no religious tone. Note that some events — such as parades– may be celebrated on a weekend, not the actual summer solstice day!
Summer solstice is the day of the year with the longest period of daylight and the shortest night, and marks the first day of the season of summer. During the year, the position of the Sun as seen from the Earth moves north or south depending on the season. When the Sun changes direction, it seems to stand momentarily still.
The name solstice is derived from the Latin word solstitium (from sol: "sun" and sistere: "stand still"), so solstices are those moments of the year when the Sun reaches its southernmost or northernmost position, at the Tropic of Cancer (23.45 degrees north) or Tropic of Capricorn (23.45 degrees south). This is the moment when the Earth’s tilt faces exactly directly towards or away from the Sun.
Illustrating summer solstice: The orbit of the Earth defines an ellipse with the Sun at one focus. The Earth moves around its orbit in the direction of the arrows, while spinning about its own axis, which is tilted to the plane of the ecliptic at 23.5 deg. The Earth axis points toward the North Star.
Summer solstice usually occurs on 21/22 June in the northern hemisphere and on 21/22 December in the southern hemisphere. As a curiosity, the Arctic Circle is the imaginary line that marks the latitude above which the sun does not set on the day of the summer solstice and does not rise on the the day of the winter solstice. North of this latitude, periods of continuous daylight or night last up to six months at the North Pole.
Summer Solstice Celebrations
Alaska – Summer Solstice Celebrations
Top billing goes to places with festivities under the 24-hour sun, and it’s no surprise that in Alaska many cities and towns celebrate the Summer Solstice; check this list at Alaska Magazine.
Yellowknife Summer Solstice Festival
Also "way up north", the capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories has a multi-day Summer Solstice festival, with music, and face-painting and other fun for kids.
Summer Solstice in Scandinavia
In other Lands of the Midnight Sun: "Midsummer’s Eve" is hugely popular in Scandinavia (and in Sweden, it’s actually a national holiday.) About.com’s Guide for Scandinavia for Visitors overviews the occasion in several countries. In Norway, for example, bonfires are a tradition; visitors to Oslo can simply join in around a bonfire near their hotel.
Moving to celebrations in lower latitudes… Scroll down for New York, Californa, and more. But first:
England: Stonehenge and Glastonbury
Mysterious, mythic Stonehenge is deeply associated with the solstices; and people do observe the Summer Solstice there. For a festival, however, Glastonbury is the place to be: known for legendary associations with King Arthur and the Holy Grail, Glastonbury puts on a multi-day Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts. (Note: 2007 dates are in early June.)
NYC: Times Square Summer Solstice
New York City has multi-day events in tourist hotspot Times Square, with music, dance, and some surprises such as, for example, yoga sessions. Also, check for festivities organized by New York City Parks, such as this one in Queens: art-making, entertainment, face-painting, and more, at Socrates Sculpture park.
Also in New York, (the city that just has to have everything) is "Manhattanhenge": just as Stonehenge has the summer solstice when the sun and the stones align just right, Manhattan too has magic moments when the sun "sets in exact alignment with the Manhattan grid, fully illuminating every single cross-street for the last fifteen minutes of daylight." Read about these interesting occurences (in May and July), described by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History.
Boston Children’s Museum
An annual "Summer Revels" event celebrates the first day of summer; in 2007, this is A Celebration of the Sea, a free performance, June 22 & 23, 2007 at the Museum’s new Children’s Wharf Park, featuring Circle of Song, the Revels’ 40-member touring ensemble of adults and kids.
WI: Green Lake 10th Annual Summer Solstice Celebration
Saturday June 16 2007 brings a day-long party with Summer Solstice "Bed Races", town-wide pajama party, Medallian Hunt in a 4-block radius, entertainment. Green Lake is within an 1-1/2 drive of Wisconsin’s major cities, 3-hour drive from Chicago; lake recreation, hiking, etc.
CA: Los Angeles
For 25 years, the California Traditional Music Society has put on The Summer Solstice Folk Music, Dance and Storytelling Festival, with musicians, dancers, singers, and storytellers fom around the world.
CA: Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Parade
This city between LA and San Francisco has a parade and a two-day festival; children’s area with storytellers, musicians, air bouncer, face-painting, free art projects.
WA: Fremont Summer Solstice Parade
Started in the late 80’s in this Seattle neighborhood, this Parade is now a "citywide community art parade". Anyone can join in the parade, or picnic afterward in a park, with music and food.