Celebrating the Return of Santa Barbara’s Summer Solstice Festival
By Mia Groeninger
The Summer Solstice Celebration is Santa Barbara’s largest art event. Every year, locals and tourists alike line up to experience the magic of these two days. Artists have spent six weeks putting together intricate floats, puppets, and bicycles, as well as choreographing dances and musical performances.
“There is an interconnectedness of us all as we gather and celebrate this time once a year, actualizing the ‘Oneness’ we all share in gratitude,” said Lisa Thomas, board member of Santa Barbara Solstice, about the value of this day and shared appreciation of art.
June 21st is the official date of the summer solstice, which marked the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere. It occurs when Earth’s axis tilts the hemisphere at its closest point to the sun. Summer solstices held significance to early humans with archaeological evidence suggesting that Neolithic humans conceived a simple calendar based on the solstices for planting and harvesting crops. Over time, the calendar and traditions evolved. For ancient Greeks, the summer solstice marked the New Year, and celebrations took place leading up to it.
Fast forward a few centuries, and we have the Santa Barbara Summer Solstice event. The parade has held a special place in the heart of the community for 48 years. It is a time to celebrate not only the beginning of summer, but also a diverse community coming together to enjoy one another, art, and a variety of cultures.
The origins of this celebration are rooted in the soul of community and art. Mime and artist, Michael Gonzales, began this tradition as his birthday celebration in 1974. What started with several street artists developed into an outpouring of community spirit through extravagant events celebrating artistic expression. Today, the festival attracts thousands of people from across the country.
The festivities and ensembles in the parade help raise money for the Summer Solstice Celebration each year. For nearly half a century, this celebration has been an integral part of the Santa Barbara community. Around the longest day of the year, everyone, despite who they are or what they believe in, unite as one to celebrate and make this day special.
Thomas echoes this sentiment. “For me, the gathering of the amazing talent and dedication at the workshop and on the board is beautiful and an essential uniqueness of Santa Barbara that truly brings us together. We are over the top ecstatic to be returning with a full Parade and post Parade event this year,” she said.
Since this event attracts thousands each year, and everyone is in close proximity to one another, it has been on hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic. After two years, the Summer Solstice Celebration is back on. Many in our community struggled during this time, and this event symbolizes the return to normalcy, as well as the coming together after a time of hardship. There will be no COVID restrictions, other than to be aware of the crowd and stay home if you are not feeling well.
The theme for this year is “Shine”, and T-shirt design winner, Heather Andrews said it best. “To me, it is really the celebration of our unique community where everyone comes together to enjoy all the beautiful and eclectic things about Santa Barbara; a celebration of this beautiful life and the abundance of community we are so lucky to have,” she said.
Friday night kicks off the festivities with pre-Parade festivities at Alameda Park. At noon on Saturday, June 25th, the parade will commence on the corner of Ortega and Santa Barbara Street. It will proceed to Alameda Park where the post-parade events, including live music, vendors, food booths, and a beer garden will begin. Feel free to join in the parade, and there are still opportunities to hold puppets or push floats.
“There are very few times in your life when you can be the witness to that much joy for that many people," said Solstice Executive Director Claudia Britton.
Learn more at solsticeparade.com.
Mia Groeninger is edhat’s summer intern and is a rising sophomore at Cate School in Carpinteria. Her favorite thing to do in Santa Barbara is spend time at the beach.