Undaunted by Tuesday's dreary skies, a Druid at the United Kingdom's ancient Stonehenge monument prayerfully greets the Northern Hemisphere's summer solstice. This first day of summer and longest day of the year has long been observed by cultures worldwide.
This year British Druids celebrated the solstice for the first time as members of an officially recognized religion, following a controversial vote by the national Charity Commission for England and Wales last fall.
On Sunday, modern-day Maya pray in anticipation of Tuesday's summer solstice at the ancient Maya site of Tazumal. According to Maya priest Jose Erenesto Campos, the Maya hold solstice ceremonies to help balance the energy of Mother Earth and ask for abundant crops.
In tropical El Salvador the June solstice is referred to as the winter solstice, because it comes during the rainy season, which is considered winter.
In neighboring Guatemala, archaeologists recently discovered the remains of an astronomical observatory in a long-buried Maya city in which the buildings were designed to align with the sun during the solstices. During such times, the city's populace is thought to have gathered at the observatory to watch as the king appeared to command the heavens.
Aymara Indian shamans carry burned, decorated llama fetuses at a sunrise winter solstice ceremony in Tiwanaku, Bolivia.
In ancient South America, the Inca celebrated the summer solstice with a ceremony called Inti Raymi, which included food offerings and sacrifices of animals and maybe even people. (See another picture of an Aymara solstice festival.)
Photograph by David Mercado, Reuters
Sandwiched Together for the Solstice
In Paris, revelers dance their way into summer during the 30th annual Fête de la Musique, celebrated in streets an on stages across France every summer solstice—which can be on either June 20 or 21.
This solstice's shifting date is a result of the discrepancy between a human calendar year—which is usually counted as 365 days—and an astronomical year, which is about 365.24 days.
Our leap year system—which adds an extra day to the calendar every four years—ensures our calendars are accurate, but it also causes the solstice date to flop around a bit.