THE Summer Solstice is usually a disappointment; the year has barely begun and already the nights are drawing in.

This year I was forced to reassess. Driving back from London a week ago, my phone’s satnav was mysteriously taken over by some druidic power. Eschewing the obvious route through the Wallops, it took me instead past Stonehenge and I was treated to a glorious, red sunset silhouetting the stones. The hordes had yet to arrive; early enthusiasts were securing the best pitches. As I drove into Salisbury, sporadic groups of cyclists were making their way up Devizes Road; next morning’s brilliant sunshine and clear blues skies, would amply repay their efforts.

The following day, I had the immense good fortune (it’s not what you know, it’s who…) to find myself a guest at a Swedish midsummer party. Until then, my only exposure to Swedish culture had been Abba and trips to Ikea, leaving me with the distinct impression that it’s cultural and culinary highlights consisted of sequinned suits, meatballs and the ability to reduce the entire furnishings of a house into a single flat box.

In Sweden, I discovered, guests and families join together to celebrate the Solstice in a way that puts other countries’ Christmas and Easter celebrations into the shade. Schnapps preceded every course; the table groaned with savoury dishes and sweet delicacies the likes of which I’d never tasted before. I can’t remember all their names (the schnapps may have had something to do with that), but herring featured in quite a few (curried, soused and cured); strawberries featured in others (thankfully the two never together), caviar added additional class; crispbreads leant familiarity.

The wine flowed. There were folk songs between the courses and, thanks to the schnapps and memories of the Swedish chef on the Muppets, most of the words were strangely familiar. Lunch was rounded off with the most elaborate strawberry cake and an equally elaborate folk, frog dance round a table top maypole; we sat and drank cocktails till the sun set.

Celebrations are meant to be shared. Either in a large crowd, or in a group of about a dozen. Humans are at heart, social beings; part of us comes alive when we are in a crowd of like-minded people (be it a rally, a football match, or the Stonehenge summer solstice) another part when we are in a group of about ten or twelve.

One of the most depressing and disappointing consequences of our increasingly individualised, customer-focused life today, is the way that its relentless dogma of personal consumption robs us of other opportunities to be fully human. Celebrating together is a way of snatching some of them back.

Midsummer festivals, be they of the Swedish or Stonehenge variety, are as much celebrations of humanity as they are of nature.