Summer solstice 2022: Sensual traditions on the longest day of the year

by 24USATVJune 20, 2022, 11:01 p.m. 13
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Do you feel a stirring in your heart? Maybe a jump in your libido? Heck, are you just getting plain ol' hot and bothered?

The solstice is historically linked to fertility -- both of the plant and human variety -- in destinations around the world.

Question: I like precision. Exactly when is the summer solstice in 2022?

Answer: The answer depends on where you are during the solstice.

Here's how 09:13 UTC lines up with local time in select places spanning the globe (and watch the time progression as we sweep from east to west):
• Guam: 7:13 p.m. Tuesday
• Tokyo, Japan: 6:13 p.m. Tuesday
• Manila, Philippines: 5:13 p.m. Tuesday
• Dhaka, Bangladesh: 3:13 p.m. Tuesday
• Dubai, UAE: 1:13 p.m. Tuesday
• Istanbul, Turkey: 12:13 p.m. Tuesday
• Brussels, Belgium: 11:13 a.m. Tuesday
• Casablanca, Morocco: 10:13 a.m. Tuesday
• Recife, Brazil: 6:13 a.m. Tuesday
• Boston, Massachusetts: 5:13 a.m. Tuesday
• Guadalajara, Mexico: 4:23 a.m. Tuesday
• Calgary, Canada: 3:13 a.m. Tuesday
• Seattle, Washington: 2:13 a.m. Tuesday
• Honolulu, Hawaii: 11:13 p.m. Monday

Question: It's the longest day of the year -- and it happens all over the world?

Answer: Nope. It's the longest day only in the Northern Hemisphere. It's the shortest day of the year south of the equator. Residents of the Southern Hemisphere -- in places such as Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand -- are about to welcome three months of winter.

And the differences in how much daylight you get become very dramatic as you get closer to the poles and farther from the equator.

In Ecuador's capital of Quito, just barely north of the equator, people barely notice the difference. They get a measly extra seven minutes of daylight.

But residents of northerly Helsinki, Finland, will get a 3:54 a.m. sunrise and almost 19 hours of daylight. Even the night doesn't get that dark.

The denizens of Fairbanks in central interior Alaska can scoff at those 19 hours. They'll get a whopping 21 hours and 41 minutes of daylight.

As for those poor penguins in Antarctica guarding their eggs -- if they could talk, they could tell you a lot about living in 24-hour darkness.

Question: Why don't we just get 12 hours of daylight all year?

"As Earth orbits the sun [once each year], its tilted axis always points in the same direction. So, throughout the year, different parts of Earth get the sun's direct rays," according to NASA.

When the sun reaches its apex in the Northern Hemisphere, that's the summer solstice.

Now let's turn our attention to what's really on our minds: the romantic and sexy side of the solstice. We'll start in Sweden.

Their traditions include dancing around a maypole -- a symbol which some view as phallic. They also feast on herring and vodka (whether that's romantic or not is probably a matter of personal preference).

"A lot of children are born nine months after Midsummer in Sweden," Jan-Öjvind Swahn, a Swedish ethnologist and the author of several books on the subject, told CNN before his death in 2016.

"Drinking is the most typical Midsummer tradition. There are historical pictures of people drinking to the point where they can't go on anymore," said Swahn.

While the libations have a hand in the subsequent baby boom, Swahn pointed out that even without the booze, Midsummer is a time rich in romantic ritual.

"There used to be a tradition among unmarried girls, where if they ate something very salty during Midsummer, or else collected several different kinds of flowers and put these under their pillow when they slept, they would dream of their future husbands," he said.

There is a similar mythology about dreaming of one's future spouse in parts of Greece. There, as in many European countries, the pagan solstice got co-opted by Christianity and rebranded as St. John's Day. Still, in many villages in the country's north, the ancient rites are still celebrated.

One of the oldest rituals is called Klidonas, and it involves local virgins gathering water from the sea.

The village's unmarried women all place a personal belonging in the pot and leave it under a fig tree overnight, where -- folklore has it -- the magic of the day imbues the objects with prophetic powers, and the girls in question dream of their future husbands.

The next day, all the women in the village gather, and take turns pulling out objects and reciting rhyming couplets that are meant to predict the romantic fortunes of the item's owner. These days, however, the festival is more an excuse for the community of women to exchange bawdy jokes.

"In my village, the older women always seem to come up with the dirtiest rhymes," says Eleni Fanariotou, who has filmed the custom. Later in the day, the sexes mingle and take turns jumping over a bonfire.

Anyone who succeeds in jumping over the flames three times is meant to have a wish granted. Fanariotou said the festival often results in coupling.

"It's a good time to meet someone, because all the young people in the village go, and it's a good opportunity to socialize. Plus, all the men like to show off and make the biggest fire they can to jump through."

In Eastern Europe, the summer solstice is connected with Ivan Kupala Day -- a holiday with romantic connotations for many Slavs ("kupala" is derived from the same word as "cupid"). It's also called Kupala Night (love doesn't stick to a strict timetable, apparently).

"It was once believed that Kupala night was a time for people to fall in love, and that those celebrating it would be happy and prosperous throughout the year," recalls Agnieszka Bigaj from the Polish tourist board.

It used to be that young, unmarried women would float floral wreaths in the river where eager bachelors on the other side would try to catching the flowers. she said.

According to Polish folklore, the man and woman in question would become a couple. Bonfires are also a large feature of the holiday, and it's tradition for a couple to leap through the flames together while holding hands -- if they don't let go, it is said their love will last.

Yoga in India and beyond

Few things get you in touch with your mind and body like yoga does.

In India, the birthplace of the ancient practice, the summer solstice is traditionally celebrated with mass yoga sessions throughout the nation, the world's second-most populous.

And these days, yoga has gone worldwide.

It was called "chaojie" and "women gave colored fans and sachets to each other. Fans could help them feel not so hot and the sachets were for driving away mosquitoes and making them smell sweet."

One of the most notable solstice celebrations in the world traditionally has taken place at Stonehenge in England, where thousands usually gather each year. Like many other events in 2020-21, they had to close it down because of the pandemic.

Dating back to druid and pagan times, Stonehenge has a mysterious allure.

"All druid rituals have an element of fertility, and the solstice is no exception," King Arthur Pendragon, a senior archdruid, told CNN. "We celebrate the union of the male and female deities -- the sun and the Earth -- on the longest day of the year."

Top image: Swimmers walk back from the sea after a summer solstice dip in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, England, on June 21, 2021. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

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