It’s no coincidence that Saint John the Baptist Day—a statutory holiday in Quebec celebrated every year on June 24—falls so close to the longest day of the year. When Christianity spread across much of Europe in the fifth century, pagan solstice celebrations were replaced by honouring Saint John the Baptist instead. The holiday’s origins in Canada date back to 1646, when a canon was fired over the St. Lawrence River. Today, the religious aspects of the holiday have faded into the background, making la Fête Nationale du Québec a celebration of identity. Events occur in Francophone communities across Canada, but the best place to be is in Quebec City.
Since 1996, June 21 has been National Indigenous Peoples Day, with celebrations of Indigenous heritage and culture taking place across Canada. Again, the timing is deliberate—for generations, Indigenous peoples and communities have celebrated their heritage on or near the solstice. In Ottawa, the Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival takes place on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg people. Festival-goers can sample wild game and traditional cuisine, watch dancers compete in the Pow Wow, and listen to top Canadian performers on the Celebration Stage.
After a long winter, the midnight sun energizes the people of Whitehorse, who, on June 21, hike to the top of Grey Mountain to watch the sunrise. On top of hiking, many locals also head off on all-night canoe trips and bike rides. In fact, many participate in the 24 Hours of Light Mountain Bike Festival. Held the last weekend in June, it’s the only 24-hour race in the world where you’re not allowed to use lights—instead, you ride along with the midnight sun as your guide. http://24hoursoflight.ca/
If heading to the United Kingdom for solstice has been on your bucket list, we’ve got good news—you can do the same thing, but a lot closer to home. Constructed by local astronomers in Penticton, BC, “Pen Henge” is a standing stone array on the top of Munson Mountain on the east side of Okanagan Lake. Each year, people gather around the stones—each denoting a cardinal date of the year—to watch the sun set. As it does, a shadow is cast over the summer solstice stone, which eventually extends to touch the central heel stone.