STONEHENGE, England — Rain-sodden crowds welcomed a spectacularly rainy summer solstice at Stonehenge in true British fashion Thursday: With stoicism and wit.
Even one of Britain’s latter-day druids — fixtures of the annual celebration — sought refuge with journalists in a tent set up near the entrance.
“It’s a wash,” said King Arthur Pendragon, his fine white beard turned into a soggy silver sponge. “Literally.”
The crowd at the festival was way down from previous years, when numbers have hovered just below 20,000.
But through the wind and rain, drummers inside the ancient stone circle kept up their thumping rhythm, new age pagans kept up their chaotic dance, and visitors kept up their sense of humor.
“Everyone’s very friendly,” said Teresa Smith, 50, who spoke from underneath a rain-streaked plastic poncho. “Whether alcohol- or drug-induced, everyone’s very friendly.”
Summer solstice — the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere — has long drawn people to Stonehenge, a mysterious set of standing stones whose purpose remains a matter of conjecture.
Each marked the occasion in their own way Thursday, with some pressing their heads against the stones in silent meditation and others shouting out pop tunes while swigging cheap booze from plastic bottles.
“It’s magic,” said Sandy Kay, 37, whose dance troupe participated in the night’s opening ceremony. “It’s one of the few times of the year you can go up and touch the stones.”
The climax of the ceremony, which took place at the pockmarked Heel Stone at the edge of Stonehenge, involved chants of: “All hail the sun!” even though the sun was nowhere to be seen.
But when Pendragon, resplendent albeit damp in his red-and-white robes, asked whether the crowd had had a happy solstice, the answer was a resounding: “Yes!”
Solstice celebrations also take place in other countries, although many are deferred until the last weekend in June.
Danes light bonfires, and Balts flock to the countryside.
Swedes and Finns spend midsummer at secluded lakeside cottages or at open-air dance venues during a celebration when large amounts of alcohol are consumed.