A Historic Look at Summer Solstice Celebrations in Scotland
In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice occurs on June 21 each year. This is the longest day of the year, with all the days increasing in length to a crescendo before it and getting shorter as soon as this historic date is over. It also marks the official start of summer as dictated by the Gregorian calendar.
What Happens on June 21?
That was the simple, human-friendly interpretation. But the astronomical definition goes a step further: the summer solstice is when the Earth’s geographical pole on a given hemisphere is most greatly inclined towards the sun. Hence why anthropogenic cultures have associated this event with the start of summer or midsummer for millennia.
At the North Pole, daytime is ubiquitous on June 21 and the sun doesn’t set. With Scotland occupying a fairly northern latitude, the geographical effects of the summer solstice have resonated with its people for a very long time.
Celtic Celebrations of the Longest Day of the Year
Take the Celts, for instance. They left behind the most impressive sun-worshipping legacy out of all the ancient cultures to infiltrate the UK. The summer solstice was one of 8 sacred Celtic days tied to traditional customs and pagan culture. In an era where clocks were predated by dozens of centuries, Celtic people used “Natural Time” deduced from solstices and equinoxes (the four major demarcators of Earth’s seasons) to construct their own framework of Earthly time.
Summer Solstice Customs across Scotland
At this most important period of the year, the Celts celebrated their goddess. Parallel to the longer, warmer days, they believed that banishing evil spirits and making the way for light and abundance would promote good harvests.
The sun was the almighty natural force that had the power to relinquish the darkness and herald this new state of wealth and vibrancy. Bonfires were lit and wheels of fire were cascaded down hillsides as a salute to the solar spirit. Celtic men and women jumped through hoops ringed with fire to summon luck to their lives. They believed that the higher they could jump, the more their crops would grow.
Many feasts and dances took place in the open wilderness and also within the confines of Celtic settlements, such as the one serendipitously discovered in Orkney Islands. Bonfires remained the centrepiece of these celebrations, with the Celts revering the fire as a symbol of the life-giving prowess of the sun.
The high priests of Celtic society – called the Druids – marked the summer solstice with a feast named ‘Albna Heruin’, or “Light of the Shore”. They crowned “The Oak King”, who represented one half of the year; a counterpart to “The Holly King”, who symbolised the other half.
Light in various forms, communion and a sense of awakening were all central themes to Scots’ perception of the summer solstice. After the hard, cold recesses of winter finally melted away, the longest day of the year signalled hope and fruitful times ahead.
Hail in Your Summer in the Cairngorms
Keep traditional alive and reconnect with Scotland’s past with a party of your own in the Cairngorms. The National Park is ripe for the occasion and will surely be hosting revellers in search of summer solstice bliss.
Join your family and friends in a commemorative gathering with music and song, and make the roof over your head a comfy, well-catered one at Hilton Coylumbridge. And while you’re here, check out the Aviemore Ring Cairn and Stone Circle for a full immersion into our ancestors’ closeness with nature. The structure dates back to around 2,400 to 2,200 BC and is evidence of Celtic activity in the region – a must-see for history aficionados.
With up to 25% slashed off the cost of your stay in our summer sale, you don’t have to spend a fortune to find yourself in the midst of this once-in-a-year spectacle.