When we think "summer holidays," wondrous images of fireworks, cookouts, and beach time immediately come to mind. But this carefree season is celebrated around the world in a number of different ways, from ceremonial boat racing, to human pyramids, to glorious bonfires. If you want to expand your celebratory horizons this summer, try observing one of these 15 holidays, ancient and modern, from around the world!
1. The Summer Solstice
The summer solstice was celebrated long before people knew what actually caused it (answer: the Earth is all wobbly). Practically every culture observes the solstice, but if you want to get all Druid about it — and who doesn't? — you should celebrate it by building some kind of super-fort. A Stonehenge-lite, if you will. Be sure to include a well-placed window in your fort, to welcome the setting sun on the longest day of the year. As far as the archeological evidence of the Celts goes, the next step appears to be: party on.
2. Midsummer's Day
Here's another way to celebrate the solstice: build a Maypole and dance up a storm around it. This has been a tradition in Scandinavian countries for many centuries (and they came up with Thor so you know they're doing something right). We highly recommend using the awesome Swedish word for a Maypole, midsommarstang, in your festivities, and maybe also as a band name. You can decorate your midsommerstang with whatever symbols are most lucky or meaningful for you. Just make sure it's something really special, like the the Bat Signal or the Avengers' "A."
3. Ivan Kupala Day
In Slavic countries, Ivan Kupala Day is celebrated from June 23-24, and it's one of these great, explosive mashups between ancient and modern traditions. The pagan tradition emphasized the role of water as a nourisher of both humans and the planet (that's the "Kupala" part). When the region became more Catholic, this emphasis on water was pegged to John the Baptist (that's the "Ivan" part). The long and the short of it all? Excuse for a huge water fight. To celebrate this day, stock up the water balloon supply and get out the Super Soakers. In the evening, dry off around a bonfire or go searching for the first ferns of summer (not a euphemism).
4. The Duanwu Festival
We would like to go back in time to thank whatever genius came up with dragon boats. No matter how luxurious a cruise ship is, if you pull up next to it on a dragon boat, you win because you are riding a dragon. In China, dragon boats are raced in the glorious Duanwu Festival sometime in June (the exact date depends on the lunisolar Chinese calendar). They have also inspired similar races across the world, so there might be a dragon boat race near you. Even if there isn't, you can still celebrate the Duanwu Festival by balancing an egg on one end at exactly noon, which is apparently step #1 if you want good luck.
5. The Golowan Festival
Celebrated from June 23-28 in the British region of Cornwall, Golowan Festival is both fun to celebrate and to just say. GOLOWAN. What a fantastic bunch of syllables. But it gets better: it's tradition to elect a Mock Mayor as part of the celebrations, and let him give a bunch of cheeky public speeches right in front of the real Mayor. How great would it be to elect a Mock Principal or a Mock Parent for a day? Answer: the greatest. Another key part of the Golowan Festival is definitely partying, mostly by doing the ancient serpent dance (pictured here). It's...exactly what it looks like.
6. Bon Festival
If you are less a serpent-dancer and more a quiet, reflective type, the Japanese Bon Festival might be up your alley. Celebrated on both July 15 and August 15, the Bon Festival is a Buddhist celebration of heritage, and encourages pilgrimages to ancestral lands (ie. your parents' house). When you are home, think of all the many people who have made your existence possible, and light a little lantern or candle for those who come to mind. Pictured here are decorative lanterns floating down the Sasebo River: little bonfires for the fairy folk.
7. Pi Approximation Day
Math geeks rejoice! Pi Day has become so popular, it now officially has a spinoff. We normally celebrate Pi Day on March 14 (3.14), but because the fraction 22/7 is so commonly used to approximate pi, number nerds everywhere have staked a claim to July 22 as Pi Approximation Day. When you have a number as interesting as pi, why not celebrate it twice a year? Pi Approximation Day is observed the same way as its progenitor, by eating pizza pies, apple pies, pretty much anything that's both edible and circular. And if it's a super-nerd party, have yourself a contest to see who can calculate the area of the pie the fastest. The winner gets a whole quadrant!
8. International Friendship Day
You know what makes all these holidays great? Friends. It's about time we set aside a day to say, "I love you, man" or "Girrrrrl, you the bomb." The idea of a day celebrating friendship was first instituted in Paraguay in 1958, and quickly spread to many other South American countries. In 2011, the UN officially announced that July 30 is henceforth a global celebration of one of life's greatest pleasures: havin' pals. It's customary to exchange friendship bracelets and other gifts on this day, and to tell your friends how much they mean to you until they die from blushing.
9. The Heracleia
Time to get ancient on your butts. In late July/early August in classical Greece, communities came together to celebrate the Heracleia Festival. The holiday was all about Heracles, better known by his Roman name, Hercules. Oh yeah, that's right, that guy. The dude who could punch up a hydra and tame a three-headed hellbeast like it was no big D. To honor this superhero, a bunch of teenagers would be handpicked by the powers-that-be in the town (don't worry: we're not going all Hunger Games on you). The youths would compete in a bunch of athletic and musical competitions, while spectators ate a bunch and heckled them (some things never change). At the end of the multi-day festival, the winners would get an awesome brass tripod. You know, to put in the ol' tripod display case.
10. Picnic Day
In Northern Australia, August 5 is a government sanctioned picnic day. It was originally introduced to commemorate the emancipation of Chinese railway workers, who had to endure insane working conditions. When they were released and given enough money to return to China, many of the railway workers opted instead to settle in Australia. To commemorate their hard-earned freedom, they held the first celebratory Picnic Day on the banks of the Adelaide River. This year, you can show your appreciation for cultural diversity, societal progress, and delicious sandwiches all at the same time by joining in on this Aussie holiday.
11. Puck Fair
On August 10, a three-day festival known as Puck Fair goes down in Killorglin, Ireland. The entire event is based around a literal wild goat chase. Residents of the town capture a goat from the surrounding countryside and proclaim it to be the King for the next three days of revelry. After the King is deposed on the third day, he will be returned to the wild, where he'll find his family and recount tales of his time reigning supreme over a bunch of strange bipeds. It's probably not a good idea to go wild goat hunting with no experience, so we just recommend giving a friendly neighborhood cat a coronation to honor Puck Fair this year. This should be easy, as most cats already assume they are royalty.
12. Tanabata/Qixi Festival
The Chinese Qixi Festival and the Japanese Tanabata holiday are both based around the same gooey, romantic myth. As the legend goes, the stars Altair and Vega, which make up two vertices of the Summer Triangle constellation, are deeply in love. But they can only meet on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month (August 13 in 2013). To celebrate the union of this adorable stellar couple, the Chinese make offerings and stand near grapevines to listen in on the lovers' conversation (you just need to be an NSA employee to do that today!). In Japan, it is customary to write down wishes and float them down a river or tie them to a bamboo tree. We hope this year, Altair finally proposes to Vega...enough with the waffling!
Let's get one thing straight right away: the Romans were experts at partying. There were more festivals and celebrations in ancient Rome than you can shake a midsommarstang at. But we chose Nemoralia, observed from August 13-15, because it involves getting decked out in flowers and what could possibly yell "summer" louder than that? The holiday celebrates Diana, an archer goddess who hung out on the moon being pretty much the coolest tomboy of all time. During festival evenings, the Romans would cover everything in summer flowers: themselves, their houses, even their dogs (we're sure they were about as thrilled about their costumes as this guy is). Then, they'd light torches meant to mingle with Diana's moonlight, and dance it up near a lakefront. If you don't have access to a lakefront, don't worry: dancing by any ol' puddle will do.
14. Krishna Janmashtami
If you are devoted cheerleader, Krishna Janmashtami is the holiday for you. It's celebrated annually in the Indian subcontinent to commemorate the birth of the god Krishnu, who was carried over a river as a baby to escape execution. On August 28 this year, a large pot of buttermilk will be hung on a wire dozens of feet high. The festivities begin when the revelers work together to build a human pyramid to reach it. Whoever gets to the top first breaks the pot, spilling good luck in the form of buttermilk on everyone below. Halfway between hitting a pinata and watching Bring It On, Janmashtami is a great way to finish off the summer.
15. Bloomsday... and BEYOND!
We admit it: Bloomsday, the annual celebration of the charmingly insane author James Joyce, has already passed this year. Observed on June 16, Bloomsday is a huge deal for Dubliners, who spend the day dressed in old-fashioned clothing, reading their favorite passages of Joyce's work. Even though we just missed it, this is still a great example of a holiday that emerged very recently, just because a city was super chuffed about an author. Basically, people make new holidays whenever they feel like it over anything. So if none of the holidays we listed tickled your fancy, why don't you make up your own? Tell us what special person/event/anything you want to honor this summer, and how you plan to celebrate it!
What's your favorite summer tradition?