How to celebrate midsummer: ideas from around the world

How to celebrate midsummer: ideas from around the worldPA

Mark the longest, lightest time of year with sunlight, song – and even the odd bit of nudity....

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Midsummer madness around the world
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How to celebrate midsummer: ideas from around the world

A strong theme of nakedness runs through the midsummer celebrations of many countries, perhaps not surprisingly given the link with fertility. Anyway, nowhere (not even Sweden) do they take this as far as in the western Latvian town of Kuldiga, where 50 or so participants let it all hang out to run the annual 'race of the naked' over the town bridge at 3am. Runners are rewarded by a beer and their nakedness is given full police protection, should any prudes try and ruin the fun. Visit www.latvia.travel/en .

Midsummer is thought to be the most powerful time of year (plants and herbs picked on midsummer night are said to have magical healing powers), so where better to celebrate it than one of the world's most sacred sites? English Heritage now provides 'Managed Open Access' to Stonehenge on Tuesday 21 June, so pack your thermos, sleeping bag and crystals and watch as the Heel Stone, just outside the main circle, aligns with the rising sun at 4.45am. For more information, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk.

The Swedes go mad for midsummer, but it's traditionally been a private, family celebration, largely inaccessible to visitors. This year, head to West Sweden and join in the singing and maypole dancing at the magnificent Gunnebo House and Gardens on the 24th June. (See sweden.se for more info). If you're not in the mating market, beware, as, according to an old Swedish proverb: 'Midsummer night is not long, but it sets many cradles rocking'.

Leaping over huge bonfires may be a health and safety nightmare, but it's a big part of Estonian midsummer celebrations, essential for warding off evil spirits, encouraging a good harvest, guaranteeing prosperity and avoiding bad luck. The bigger the fire, the further the spirits stay from it, ensuring a good harvest. Fire jumpers are rewarded with cottage cheese pie, fire baked potatoes, barbecued meat, pickled, cured, fumed and baked fish, washed down with Midsummer beer and schnapps. For holidays to Estonia, visit www.balticholidays.com.

Bryn Celli Ddu may be less well known (and harder to pronounce) than Stonehenge, but this prehistoric burial chamber is further proof of the wonders of ancient astronomy. Its stone passage is aligned to the solstice, so that for 20 minutes each year the dawn rays enter the chamber and light up a quartz-rich stone at the back of the tomb. Stay 10 miles from Bryn Celli Ddu at Llanfaes in The Old Smithy, a restored blacksmiths cottage. Book through www.qualitycottages.co.uk .

Head down to Penzance for nine days of Cornish culture laced with Pagan mayhem. The Golowan Festival (with Mazey Day its climax) runs from 18-26 June and includes serpent dances, the legendary Penglaz hobby horse, summer bonfires and the demonic democracy of the Mock Mayor. To enjoy the fun, stay close by at Cherry Orchard – a four-bedroom property with stunning sea views in the fishing village of Mousehole. Book through Classic Cottages, www.classic.co.uk .

See the sunrise over Scotland from the 1000m peak of Schiehallion mountain (the name means 'The Fairy Hill' in Gaelic, appropriately), while raising money for a good cause. A sponsored walk to the summit on 25/26 June, organised by Mountain Aid – the charity for hill walkers – kicks off with hot soup served before the start and ends with a celebratory wee dram, bucks fizz or soft drink served with canapés at the summit. To continue the Midsummer Night's Dream theme, there's a prize for the best dressed male and female 'fairy'. Visit www.mountainaid.org.uk for details.

Since Brazil's in the Southern Hemisphere, this is actually their mid winter, but the Portuguese colonists obviously weren't worried about details like that when they introduced their Festival of Saint John, or São João, to Brazil. Festivities carry on nationwide, particularly in the Northeast, where two towns, Caruaru and Campina Grande, compete for the title of 'Biggest São João Festival in the World'. Visit www.braziltour.com.

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