Only in Alaska: Celebrating solstice

Before I moved to Alaska, I assumed that solstice celebrations were for druids and/or hippies, and imagined long-haired folks with crowns of leaves preforming incantations and ceremonies on both the longest and shortest days of the year. While there are no doubt spiritual observances of the elliptical path of the sun going on in Alaska, up here you’re just as likely to have a grocery store clerk wish you a “happy solstice.” Daylight here is more than passive background lighting; it dictates our moods, energy, and productivity, to say the least. Even travelers here for less than a week find themselves affected, if only because they can’t sleep at night for all the sunshine.

With nearly 24 hours of daylight in the summer, and nearly 24 hours of darkness in the winter, many Alaskans intently observe solstices. In summer, the day is both a celebration of all that fabulous daylight (better than any serotonin-enhancing drug, I assure you) and a bit of mourning for the fact that the day also marks the beginning of the sun’s retreat. In winter, we wholeheartedly celebrate the days getting longer, even though we won’t see normal daylight hours for months after either holiday.

A common way to ring in the longest day of the year is to climb a mountain and watch the sun circle the horizon rather than dip below it. If you’re looking for something more formal, plenty of organized, non-Druid celebrations are held across the state for summer solstice; following are a few ways you can honor the longest day of the year.

Moose Pass Solstice Festival: Only 25 miles from my home, the Moose Pass festival is where I’ll be shaking my booty when the sun finally sets at 11:45 p.m. (and quite possibly when it rises again a few short hours later). A tiny little celebration, the Moose Pass festival showcases local artists, and rain or shine, there’s sure to be some local bluegrass band playing next to a small beer garden.

Seldovia Summer Solstice Music Festival: Also in my region of the state, the Seldovia festival is all about the music. Because the town is off the road system, visitors will be treated to a show on the “trusty Tusty” (the ferry Tustemena) the Thursday before the festival.

Fairbanks Midnight Sun Festival: An entire weekend lined with events, the Midnight Sun festival includes a midnight baseball game (with no artificial lighting, of course), a 10k fun run (it begins at 10 p.m., so you can still watch the sunset – even if you have to walk it), and a street fair.

21st Annual AWAIC Summer Solstice Festival: Held by the Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis, this weekend-long street fair in Anchorage is likely one of the biggest in the state. With a line-up of musicians from the Lower 48, Anchorage’s streets will certainly be packed with both locals and tourists.

If you’re in a place where there’s no celebration, worry not. My favorite way to observe the day/night is to simply slap on some mosquito repellent, take a short hike, and watch the sun set, keeping an eye on the glowing horizon, waiting for the sun to rise again in the middle of the night.