How do you celebrate midsummer and the solstice? In parts of northern Europe it is marked by parties and bonfires - the feast day of St. John - which is bound up with all kinds of earlier pagan festivities to mark the longest days that occur at this time.
Bonfire on Skagen's Beach, Peder Severin Krøyer (1851–1909).
In England, a lively assortment of modern-day druids, pagans and various others descend upon the circle of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, since on midsummer's day the sun rises in alignment with the stones - an ancient observatory of the seasons.
Stonehenge by John Constable (1776-1837).
But it's not just old ideas and traditions. In recent years, in the unlikely location of New York's Times Square, people gather for a dawn-to-dusk session of yoga. Meanwhile, in alpine regions such as Austria, yet more bonfires and social get-togethers of various sorts take place on mountain tops with panoramic views. Lots of people love the bright and vibrant colours of summer, particularly artists. It seems to have been a permanent fixture in some of the most beloved paintings of the Impressionist era.
Claude Monet - Study of a figure Outdoors.
The al-fresco life
Personally, I have always failed to appreciate the attractions of excessively hot dry weather. But admittedly it is a rare opportunity (especially in the English climate) to get together with family and friends outdoors, for Al fresco dining and generally merriment.
Kunstnerfest in Skagen, 1888.
Cheers! What a delightful painting! The title means something like 'the artists' party.' Everyone seems so wonderfully happy and yet civil at the same time. What a fine fellow Mr Krøyer must have been and to have had so many lovely friends!
Alternatively, long summer days can be a time for contemplation and quiet (ah, now you're talking my language!). A time for chilling out and sitting quietly with a good book. Like this chap:
The painter Alfred James Mullings, by Harold Knight.
What a superb painting this is. But I wonder what is happening - that outstretched hand? Either the gentleman wants you to listen to a startling revelation he has discovered in his book, or else someone's just made off with his glass of Pinot Grigio.
Ah Summer! In many ways, we do most of us wish it could last forever, all these hot lazy days - but we know, too, that nothing would ever get done that way. Just like us humans, the seasons must alter and transform, one into the other. Whatever your preferences, wishing you all a lovely time on this the summer Solstice. Here is a little piece of Shakespeare at his summer-best.