Today marks the Summer Solstice, the longest day and shortest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and the official start of summer. Around the world, science buffs, pagans, neo-druids, Goths, and other earth-loving types are gathering in forests, fields, deserts, and ancient places like Stonehenge to chant, meditate, dance, hang out, and welcome the season of light. There are plenty of brainy science and history stories that explain how the sun hovers in declination and what that meant to ancient cultures, but apparently it’s easier to poke fun at the celebrants, portraying them as nerds, weirdos, and trainspotters. It would be a fool’s errand to argue that they’re not—just check out some of the pictures—but the similarities between solstice celebrations and regular summer parties are too much to ignore. Who’s the nerd, exactly?
Let me tell you how my peeps in Latvia—both nerdy and cool—rock Midsummer Night, which they celebrate as John’s Day in honor of the Latvian pagan deity Jānis. They take the train to a friend or relative’s farm in the countryside where they’re serenaded on arrival with folksongs—not unlike carpooling to Bonnaroo and getting there as the opening acts take the stage. The Latvians consume copious amounts of Black Balsam, beer, and cheese made specially for the occasion, much as summer partiers anywhere booze and scarf under the sun. Women wearing flowered wreathes and men crowned with oak branches dance around bonfires in a field to ensure future prosperity—just like summer jet-setters wear silk headscarves and wide-brimmed hats as they dance around bonfires on the beach and revel in their own prosperity. Young Latvian couples slip away and venture into the forest to gather magical herbs and mythical ferns that invite sexual liaisons, while the cool kids at summer parties in the Hamptons smoke their magical herbs and have sex in parked cars. The Latvians stay up all night, strip naked, and go skinny dipping in the nearest lake as the sun reaches its nadir, which isn’t much different from staying up all night and skinny dipping in some hotel pool in South Beach.
Of course it’s a little bit dorky, but what isn’t? At least the solstice partiers have the sense to go outside when the weather’s nice and mark the change of seasons. And they’re armed with some hardcore cultural ammo to justify their debauchery: embracing ancient traditions that connect the physical and spiritual world. The rest are jamming to tunes and hooking up. Whatever works.
[image via marasloks.lv]