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First day of summer 2013: where our solstice traditions come from (+video)

Summer Solstice 2013: our solstice traditions have been inherited from ancient traditions practiced around the globe.

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Generally, the summer solstice becomes more important with increasing latitude – for civilizations close to the broiling equator, after all, summer weather was not particularly novel, nor was the demarcation of seasons so important to agriculture. In North America, Wyoming’s Bighorn medicine wheel – a Native American-made stone arrangement some several hundred years old – is believed to have been deliberately built to align with the solstice sunrise and sunset. And in northern Europe, Celtic, Slavic, and Germanic couples would leap over bonfires, in hopes of giving a magical jolt to the sun’s fertile powers – their crops that summer would grow as high as the lovers had jumped, it was thought.

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Since those midsummer festivals have pagan origins, the new Christian governments rolling into northern Europe attempted to put a stop to them as they consolidated political control there. When that failed – the conquered people turned out to be reasonably stubborn about their inherited traditions – the summer rituals were incorporated into the Christian tradition as St. John’s Eve on June 24th, the feast day of St. John the Baptist.

Today through June 24th, the solstice will still be celebrated around the world, all in appreciation of the same sun. In Times Square, thousands of people on yoga mats will do a collective sun salutation, Portuguese commemorators will parade through their cities, and Russian girls will float their flower garlands down their rivers.

At Stonehenge, upwards of 30,000 modern Druids will dance at the fabled monument as the sun comes up, Austrian celebrants will send a procession of candle-lit ships down the Danube River, and Latvian runners will race nude through the town of Kuldīga.  Across northern Europe, friends and family will ignite bonfires and do as their ancestors did, leaping over them in a gesture of optimism for warm months to come.

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