In the United States, summer is more or less synonymous with barbecues, beach days and big savings on mattresses. And though every culture has its own take on sun worship, it can be rather enlightening (pun intended) to read about other kinds of summer celebrations around the world.
The short version? The world loves to commemorate summer with fire and flowers. Here are a few specific examples of interesting summer celebrations you’ll encounter in other countries.
Summer Celebrations In…
St. Petersburg is truly the city that never sleeps during the White Nights in June, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a stretch of time that doesn’t entirely see nightfall. Festivals and concerts rage through the night, and locals soak up the sun by the banks of the Neva River during the day. The whole sun-drunk festival culminates in the Scarlet Sails, which is basically like a reenactment of a children’s book involving a mock pirate battle, fireworks and a tall ship with red sails.
Throughout Eastern Europe (in countries like Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland), Ivan Kupala Day on July 7 brings out the waterworks in people (well, the water mischief, if we’re trying to be accurate). This holiday, held in honor of John the Baptist, includes bathing in rivers, jumping over bonfires and even the prospect of true love. Once upon a time, unmarried women would put floral wreaths in the river that single men would try to catch on the other side.
In Fairbanks, which is far enough north that it experiences a period of complete daylight during the summer, you can experience the Midnight Sun Game, a late-night baseball game that’s been held for more than a century. The tradition began in 1906 as a bet between two bars following a big fire that ravaged downtown Fairbanks.
Swedish Midsummer, or Midsommarstång, currently has the global popular imagination captive thanks to a certain horror film by the same name. But real Swedish Midsummer is the stuff of flower crown legend, and Coachella can’t hold a candle to that. This Solstice celebration has old-timey pagan roots, and it’s essentially a big sendup of fertility and sex. Swedes get together to eat potatoes, herring and other traditional foods, as well as make flower crowns and dance around a maypole. And yes, people tend to pair off and get busy in nature.
Neighboring Scandinavian countries like Norway, Iceland and Finland have similar but distinct traditions (like bonfires). In Iceland, you can celebrate for three straight days during its Secret Solstice Midnight Sun Music Festival.
The Ancient Mayan civilization may be long gone, but not all of their traditions are. In Guatemala, the summer solstice is celebrated with spiritual rituals performed at sunrise and sunset at the Mayan ruins of Tikal. People also perform rituals dedicated to the Temple of the Moon and Temple of the Grand Jaguar that week.
The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri Festival is an early August tradition held in the Aomori Prefecture whose signature feature is a parade of lantern floats. The floats themselves take a whole year to create, and they often feature effigies of pop culture characters, gods and historical figures.
Japan’s Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival is another mainstay for the country’s summer celebrations. This is an occasion for, well, a lot of fireworks — and one-upmanship between rival pyrotechnic companies.
Australia might be the country that’s most famous for its barbecue culture (or should we say: barbie), but Aussies have a thing for picnics during the summer — so much so that the first Monday of August has become a government-sanctioned picnic holiday in Northern Australia. This day was first designated to celebrate the emancipation of Chinese railway workers in Australia.
China has its own summer festivals too, but its Hungry Ghost Festival may seem more reminiscent of fall traditions upheld in the West. The Ghost Festival takes place during Ghost Month, which falls on the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar (roughly overlapping August and September). During this time, ancestral ghosts are released from hell and roam among the living. To appease them and mitigate any potential harm, Chinese people perform ceremonies throughout the month. The Hungry Ghost Festival takes place on the 15th day of the month and coincides with a feast, as well as the observation of certain traditions like burning incense and leaving offerings for ancestors.
Various towns throughout Spain observe midsummer with bonfires and fireworks, but the most famous and idiosyncratic of Spain’s summer celebrations is La Tomatina, which is when people in the town of Buñol get a little rowdy and pelt each other with tomatoes. Held in August, La Tomatina often attracts tens of thousands of participants who are willing to wear the season’s juiciest produce literally on their sleeves.