Throughout the world, midsummer night is celebrated by lighting fires, but every country has its own unique traditions. Firmly rooted in Pagan tradition, adopted by the Christian church, and now celebrated as neo-Pagan and as national folk festivals, the summer solstice fires are a global phenomenon.
In Finland, midsummer night has been celebrated since Viking times with huge bonfires. Communities would gather for the nightly celebration and each household would light its own fire alongside its neighbors, with the largest fire being crowned "king" of the festival. A location close to water was an important feature of these festivals – on the ocean shore, along rivers, and near lakes. To this day, bonfires are lit in Finland next to waterways, and the hardcore crowd even lights them on rafts: as close as you can get to a waterside location.
In parts of neighboring Sweden, by contrast, a tradition of lighting midsummer fires at crossroads has also lasted for many years. Present mainly in areas of Norrland, it is not clear what the original meaning of this practice were, especially as the sun hardly sets in these northern regions during peak summer months.
In Brazil, Midsummer fires used to be a rural tradition, but in recent years they have moved from the farm to the city, and have become another mass urban celebration like the Carnival. As such, they include fireworks, music, dancing, costumes, and what many countries would term outrageous behavior (although Brazilians term it as having fun). Today there are fiery midsummer night celebrations in many major cities in Brazil; there is some debate on which is the very best location, but they all promise locals and tourists a good time.
In Ireland, midsummer fires are a long and very important tradition. In the past celebrations included both enormous communal fires, and smaller family fires. Locations varied in each region, but hilltops were always popular. Today, one of the most impressive locations to catch the Irish midsummer fire is in Kilronan Parish. On top of Kilronan Mountain, a ring of ancient stones forms a mound overlooking the entire area, and every solstice night large crowds gather and climb to the mountain top, where the fire is lit.
Washington DC may seem an odd place to look for midsummer night fires, but thanks to a combination of modern French and American celebrations it will be a good choice this year. The Fête de la Musique, in which cities celebrate the solstice by offering free music performances, began some two decades ago in France has spread throughout the world. At the Washington DC event this year, performances will also include the Playa del Fuego Fire Conclave, fire spinning performers from America's homegrown Burning Man Festival.