Celebrating the Summer Solstice

The Summer Solstice is one of my favorite times of year. Really, what could be better than celebrating the longest day of the year?! Since I like it so much, I decided to find out more about it:

The Meaning of Solstice

In Latin, the term “solstice” is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), referring to the point on the horizon where the sun appears to both rise and set. Since the sky a noon doesn’t appear to change much during the solstice, the sun is seen as standing still.

Botswana Sunset, photo by GoErinGoThe solstice is the day with the most hours of sunlight during the entire year. It is not the day with the latest sunset, nor is it the day when the Earth is closest to the sun (actually it’s just the opposite). To see how many hours of sunlight you’re going to get on June 21, check out this Sunrise & Sunset Calculator.

Even though the solstice is the longest day of the year—and thus gets the most sunlight—the earth’s temperature doesn’t reach its peak until about 6 weeks later. This is because water, which makes up most of the Earth’s surface, takes a while to heat up.

On the solstice, the sun is visible throughout the night from the Arctic Circle to the North Pole, which is why it’s referred to as the Midnight Sun. Of course, in the southern hemisphere, June 21 is the shortest day of the year and is sometimes called Polar Night.

How the Solstice Celebrated Around the World

Traditionally the Summer Solstice has been a time for Pagans and Wiccans to celebrate during a Midsummer festival called Litha. During the festival, giant wheels on fire would be rolled into bodies of water to symbolize the balance between fire and water.

Sunset in Devon England, photo by GoErinGoHere’s how other culture celebrate:

England – Stonehenge is believed to be the site of ancient druid solstice celebrations because of the way the sun lines up with the stones on the winter and summer solstices. Last year, 37,000 people attended sunrise celebrations at these ancient ruins.

Scandinavia – Here, the solstice is called Sankthans or “Midsummer.” A few years back, the people of Alesund, Norway, set a world record for the tallest bonfire with their 40.45-meter (132.71-foot) blaze. (That’s a big fire!)

Egypt – The summer solstice preceded the appearance of the Sirius star, which ancient Egyptians believed was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile. Because of this, Egyptian heralded a new calendar year just after the solstice.

China – In ancient China, the summer solstice was seen as the yin to the winter solstice’s yang. During the summer solstice, the influence of yang was at its height, and the day is marked as the swing back to yin energy.

Greece – Greeks celebrated the festival of Kronia, which honored Cronus, the god of agriculture. The festival was distinguished from other annual feasts and celebrations in that both slaves and freemen participated in the festivities as equals, marking the solstice as a day of social equality.

Outback Sunset, photo by GoErinGoItaly – For ancient Romans, midsummer coincided with the festival of Vestalia, honoring Vesta, the Roman goddess who guarded virginity and the patron of the domestic sphere. On this one day, married women were allowed to enter the temple of the Vestal virgins.

How You Can Celebrate

Here’re a few fun ways to celebrate the solstice:

  • Sunset Hike: Get out in nature and go for a hike. This is usually how I celebrate, starting off about 7:00 pm and climbing to a place to view the sunset.
  • Build a Bonfire: Gather some friends, build a bonfire and start dancing!
  • Stargaze: If you have a clear night, it’s a great time to lean back and look at the stars. Here’s a Star Map of the night sky to get you started.

How are you going to celebrate the Summer Solstice (or Polar Night) this year?

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This entry was posted on Thursday, June 18th, 2015 and is filed under Erin Now.

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