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The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, and the shortest night. In the Northern Hemisphere it takes place between June 20 and 22, depending on the year. (The reverse is true in the Southern Hemisphere, where the longest day of the year occurs between December 20 and 22.) Humans may have observed the summer solstice as early as the Stone Age. Cultures around the world still celebrate the day with feasts, bonfires, picnics and songs.
Longest Day of the Year
The Northern Hemisphere receives more daylight than any other day of the year on the summer solstice. This day marks the start of astronomical summer and the tipping point at which days start to become shorter and nights longer.
The word “solstice” comes from the Latin words “sol” (sun) and “stitium” (still or stopped). The ancients noticed that as summer progressed, the sun stopped moving northward in the sky, then begin tracking southward again as summer turned to autumn. (During the winter solstice, the sun does the opposite, and begins moving northward as winter slowly turns to spring.)
Neolithic humans may initially have started to observe the summer solstice as a marker to figure out when to plant and harvest crops. In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice corresponded with the rise of the Nile River. Its observance may have helped to predict annual flooding.
Different cultures and religious traditions have different names for the summer solstice. In Northern Europe, it’s often referred to as Midsummer. Wiccans and other Neopagan groups call it Litha, while some Christian churches recognize the summer solstice as St. John’s Day to commemorate the birth of John the Baptist.
Solstice in Ancient Cultures
According to some ancient Greek calendars, the summer solstice marked the start of the New Year. The summer solstice also marked the one-month countdown to the opening of the Olympic games.
Kronia, a festival celebrating Cronus, the god of agriculture, was also held around this time. The Greeks’ strict social code was temporarily turned on its head during Kronia, with slaves participating in the merriment as equals or even being served by their masters.
In the days leading up to the summer solstice, the ancient Romans celebrated Vestalia, a religious festival in honor of Vesta, goddess of the hearth. During Vestalia, married women could enter the temple of Vesta and leave offerings to the goddess in exchange for blessings for their families.
In ancient China, the summer solstice was associated with “yin,” the feminine force. Festivities celebrated Earth, femininity, and the “yin” force.
Before Christianity, ancient Northern and Central European pagans (including Germanic, Celtic and Slavic groups) welcomed Midsummer with bonfires. It was thought that bonfires would boost the sun’s energy for the rest of the growing season and guarantee a good harvest for the fall.
Bonfires also were associated with magic. It was believed that bonfires could help banish demons and evil spirits and lead maidens to their future husbands. Magic was thought to be strongest during the summer solstice.
Midsummer was a crucial time of year for the Vikings, who would meet to discuss legal matters and resolve disputes around the summer solstice.
Many Native American tribes took part in solstice rituals, some of which are still practiced today. The Sioux, for instance, performed a ceremonial sun dance around a tree while wearing symbolic colors.
Some scholars believe that Wyoming’s Bighorn Medicine Wheel, an arrangement of stones built several hundred years ago by Plains Indians that aligns with the summer solstice sunrise and sunset, was the site of that culture’s annual sun dance.
Summer Solstice Superstitions
According to pagan folklore, evil spirits would appear on the summer solstice. To ward off evil spirits, people would wear protective garlands of herbs and flowers.
One of the most powerful of these plants was known as ‘chase devil.’ Today it’s called St. John’s Wort, because of its association with St. John’s Day.
Other summer solstice traditions hold that the ashes from a Midsummer bonfire can protect one from misfortune or that the ashes—when spread across one’s garden—will bring a bountiful harvest.
Summer Solstice and Archeology
The orientation of some archaeological structures are thought to reflect ancient observations of the summer solstice.
From the view of the Sphinx, the sun sets squarely between the Great Pyramids of Khufu and Khafre on Egypt’s Giza plateau on the summer solstice.
Archeologists have long debated the purpose and uses of Stonehenge, a Neolithic megalith monument in the south of England. The site is aligned with the direction of the sunrise on the summer solstice.
While some have theorized that Stonehenge was the location of prehistoric summer solstice rituals, there’s little archaeological evidence that it was used this way.
Modern-day Solstice Celebrations
Many cultures still celebrate the summer solstice. Midsummer festivities are especially popular in Northern Europe where bonfires are lit, girls wear flowers in their hair and homes are decorated with garlands and other greenery.
In some parts of Scandinavia, Maypoles are erected and people dance around them at Midsummer instead of May Day. Neopagans, Wiccans and New Agers around the world hold summer solstice celebrations. Each year, thousands gather at Stonehenge to commemorate the longest day of the year.
Why we celebrate the summer solstice. Scientific American.
Summer Solstice 2011: Why It’s the First Day of Summer. National Geographic.
Traditions and Holidays Around the June Solstice. TimeAndDate.com.
Summer solstice: twenty years of solstice dates and times
The summer solstice occurs today - the longest day, also known as midsummer.
The term summer solstice is actually the moment when the earth is most inclined towards the sun - and will happen at 5.16pm GMT this afternoon. It's really a Northern Hemisphere event the Southern Hemisphere will be having it winter solstice today - which we have around the 21 December. It's most commonly thought of as happening on the 21st June, but there's often a day in it - as you can see form the US Navy data below.
The event has been marked by Google hiring Japanese artist Takashi Murakami to create a Google Doodle.
Summer solstice Google doodle by Takashi Murakami.
It's traditionally a time of celebration, not just for Druids at Stonehenge (see picture above).
We thought it might be interesting to see what data there is out there - the best of which is this list of summer and winter solstice dates from the US Navy. We've extracted it below. Can you do anything with it?
The Summer Solstice and its Celtic Traditions
I n 2016, the Summer Solstice will be celebrated on the 20th of June in the Northern Hemisphere. The Summer Solstice occurs when the axial tilt of the earth is at its closest to the sun. It has more hours of daylight than any other time of the year, making it the longest day of the year.
People across the world will mark the event in various ways. While different ancient cultures had different traditions, some of the most time-honoured and world-famous were those undertaken by the Celtic people.
The Summer Solstice was one of eight sacred Celtic days where the Celts would take time to celebrate through a variety of customs. They used ‘Natural Time’ taking their lead from the Solstices and Equinoxes to determine the seasons. This is in contrast to the Gregorian calendar that has been adopted today.
The Celts believed it was a time to honour their Goddess who went by many names, depending on which Celtic region they lived in. For example, in France she was Epona, but in Ireland she was Etain. It was also a time to banish evil spirits and open up a path towards light and abundance which for The Celts meant a good harvest. Feasting and dancing took place and bonfires were lit in celebration.
For an illustrated look at the connection between the Summer Solstice and its Celtic traditions see the below infographic which has been created by Celtic Cross Online .
Other Nordic countries
Is it unfair to lump Norway, Finland and Iceland under one entry? Probably. However, these three Nordic countries do share some remarkable similarities when it comes to celebrating the summer solstice. In Norway, enormous barrel bonfires are popular, and Finland (whose ‘juhannus’ midsummer festivities were formerly based on the god Ukko before being John the Baptist-ized) similarly let loose to celebrate several extra hours of light by also crafting huge bonfires. Iceland, on the other hand, celebrates their 21 hours of daylight by throwing a huge three-day Secret Solstice Midnight Sun Music Festival.
The term “solstice” comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). At the solstice, the angle between the Sun’s rays and the plane of the Earth’s equator (called declination) appears to stand still. This phenomenon is most noticeable at the Arctic Circle where the Sun hugs the horizon for a continuous 24 hours, thus the term “Land of the Midnight Sun.” Here’s how it differs from an equinox.
Some people believe that our seasons are caused by the Earth’s changing distance from the Sun. In reality, it is due to the 23-degree tilt of the Earth’s axis that the Sun appears above the horizon for different lengths of time at different seasons. The tilt determines whether the Sun’s rays strike at a low angle or more directly.
If you want to design a midsummer altar, try your best to make one outside, for this season is all about the elements and the natural world. Gather things that shine or evoke images of the sun&mdashorange candles, lightbulbs, citronella lamps and other glowing things will all work. Some other additions might include oak trees and acorns, which traditionally symbolize energy, along with sunflowers. You might also layer the altar with incense, oils, and stones like clear quartz, yellow calcite, garnets, and seashells. Depending on your beliefs, you might also leave tributes to fertility goddesses like Litha, Demeter, Aphrodite, and Freya, or sun gods like Pan, Apollo, or Ra.
Create your own God&rsquos Eye , which are traditional crafts that you can tailor to any season by selecting specific shades of yarn, or build other crafts like solstice mandalas or sun wheels .
Five Beautiful Rituals to Celebrate Summer Solstice
The Summer Solstice is a time to reflect on your personal growth and the meaning of the season of light and growth. This is the moment of our year when there is the most light available to us. In terms of consciousness, it is when we are the most present to ourselves and who we know ourselves to be — the Sun represents the light of all life and consciousness. Seeds are planted in the Earth as well as the seeds of our souls. It’s a time of renewal and abundance, a time of love and expansion, as the summer sun unfolds the leaves on the trees, so do our souls open to receive the light of source to illuminate that which is within each of us.
Summer Solstice 2021 in the Northern Hemisphere will be on Sunday, June 20, at 11:32 PM Eastern Standard Time, or Monday June 21 5:31 AM Central European Time.
Creating a ceremony or celebration is a way for humans to acknowledge the life force energy within us and give back to Creation some of the energy and blessings that we are always receiving. The Earth constantly provides for all of us with her incredible bounty, and the Sun’s warmth provides the light necessary for all living beings to thrive and prosper.
The Solstice signifies the time when the Earth is at the fullness of her strength, fertility, and abundance, so we too can celebrate our strength in joining together, pollinating our spiritual consciousness through sharing, and offering gratitude for the abundance that which we experience daily.
The word “Solstice” is derived from the Latin words Sol+systere, meaning “Sun”+ “standing still.” The Summer Solstice is the longest day and the shortest night of the year. Following this Solstice, the days get shorter, the nights longer.
Fire is used symbolically throughout summer solstice celebrations in praise of the sun, to bring luck and to ward off the darkness. And the spiral is also a symbol associated with the Solstices. Ancient dances would follow the Sun’s movement like a spiral, people joined hands weaving through the streets, winding into a decreasing spiral into the middle then unwinding back out again. The Sun moving from contraction at the center of the spiral at winter solstice to expansion at Summer Solstice and back again. Festivals in North still continue to dance and play, holding hands in formation of a spiral.
Many traditions throughout time have celebrated the Solstices — Ancient Egypt, the Aztecs of Mexico, Chinese, Chumash Indians of California, and Indigenous Europeans. Western civilizations have for centuries celebrated this first day of summer often called Midsummer (see Shakespeare), or St. John’s Day. The Chinese mark the day by honoring Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light. Throughout history, with so much light being showered upon the Earth on this day, it’s been known as one of the most powerful days of the year for spiritual growth and healing.
To this day, revellers still gather at Stonehenge to see the sun rise. The Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone, set outside the main circle, align with the rising sun. Many of the ancient traditions continue — bonfires are still lit to celebrate the Sun at its height of power and to ask the Sun not to withdraw into winter darkness.
In North America, many Native American tribes held ritual dances to honor the sun. The Sioux were known to hold one of the most spectacular rituals — The Sun Dance. Usually performed during the June solstice, preparations for the Sun Dance included cutting and raising a tree that would be considered a visible connection between the heavens and Earth, and setting up teepees in a circle to represent the cosmos. Participants abstained from food and drink during the dance itself. Their bodies were decorated in the symbolic colors of red (sunset), blue (sky), yellow (lightning), white (light), and black (night).
Summer is a time to engage our Earth connection and cultivate and deepen our connection to the divine energies all around us. In living with gratitude and understanding that reciprocity and respect for all that is given to us is, is the way to live as if all life is ceremony. In taking only what we need, and doing what we can to live in balance and harmony with the cycles of the planet, we strengthen and nourish the bond we were given a birth with the great parent who sustains us all.
As we observe the blossoming of life all around us, we can receive the energy of vitality and experience awe for the generosity of the Earth, who provides for us everything that we need.
Modern Day Celebrations
In northern European countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, Midsummer is a festive celebration. When the summer days are at their longest, and in the north it is the time of the Midnight Sun, festivals generally celebrate the summer and the fertility of the Earth. In Sweden and many parts of Finland people dance around Maypoles. Bonfires are lit and homes are decorated with flower garlands, greenery, and tree branches.
In the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Midsummer is an occasion to travel to the countryside and connect with nature. Many people light bonfires and stay up all night drinking, singing, and dancing.
The Midsummer celebrations usually start around noon, when friends and family gather in the nearest park or archipelago to enjoy a small picnic. The maypole stands tall in the middle of the park, and the festivities begin. It’s customary to dance around the pole, and sometimes the first dance is done by a troup wearing traditional dress before everyone else is invited to join in. Make sure to take part in the Små grodorna (The Little Frogs) dance, when people jump around the pole pretending to be frogs – it has to be experienced to be believed.
Later in the afternoon, it’s time for a long, leisurely lunch. For many Swedes, the Midsummer lunch is the best food of the year, though it’s similar to the food eaten at Easter and Christmas. Must-haves are gravlax or salmon, new potatoes with dill, sour cream and chives, and, of course, sill (pickled herring). Sill is traditionally eaten on Swedish holidays, and there are usually a few different varieties, with many Swedes making their own versions rather than buying it. Other favourites include skagenröra (a tasty mix of prawns, mayonnaise, crème fraiche, lemon and dill) and västerbottenpaj (a cheese quiche).
Celebrations continue into the evening and night with drinks and games outdoors. Tradition calls for beer and shots of different kinds of snaps, usually akvavit or vodka. It’s also common for people to make snaps, flavouring it with, for example, elderflower, lemon or different herbs. There’s an old tradition to observe in the evening, too – if you collect seven different flowers and put them under your pillow on Midsummer Eve, you’re said to dream about your true love.
Local traditions have developed around the longest day, as seen in a painting after the artist Jan Wyck at Lyme Park, Cheshire. It depicts stags at Lyme being driven through a stag pond, no longer in existence, at midsummer.
Mysticism and magic are a common theme in midsummer folklore across the world. Magic was thought to be strongest during the summer solstice and myths told stories of the world turning upside down or the sun standing still at midsummer.
As Ronald Hutton, Professor of History at the University of Bristol, put it, it was seen as 'a time when the normal laws of nature or divinity could be suspended, when spirits and fairies could contact humans, when humans could exceed the usual limitations of their world.&rsquo
In an 1855 oil painting from Gunby Hall, Lincolnshire, Scottish painter William Bell Scott depicts pixies dancing by firelight. In a letter that Scott himself wrote in 1886, he spoke of the painting as showing &lsquofairies dancing before a great dying kitchen fire &hellip at a Haunted House on Midsummer&rsquos Eve.&rsquo
Observing the longest day is not limited to the Western world. Many ancient cultures and communities had unique traditions centred around midsummer.
Sun worship took on particular significance in Ancient Egyptian religions. The summer solstice aligned with the rise of the river Nile and the deity of the sun, Ra (known later during the New Kingdom as Amun-Ra), became one of Ancient Egypt&rsquos most important gods. Ra was considered creator of life and ruler of the sun, the sky and kings, and was widely commemorated in monuments and artefacts.
The Egyptian sun god was often depicted with a falcon’s head and a sun disk. He can be seen here on a pyramid stele from Ancient Egypt in the collection at Kingston Lacy, Dorset.
The Roman God of the Sun was widely celebrated in sculpture and painting. This plaster cast at Castle Ward, Northern Ireland, is a copy of the renowned Apollo Belvedere in the Vatican.
Whilst Apollo was Roman God of the Sun, Helios was the sun personified. This coin in the collection at Osterley Park, London, dates from about 400BC. It shows the head of Helios on one side.
The Temple of the Sun
This 18th-century mother-of-pearl model at Erddig, Wales, shows the ruins of the temple at Palmyra. Built in AD32, it was used to worship the Mesopotamian gods including Yarhibol, the Sun God.
The myth of Clytie
According to Greek and Roman myth, Clytie transformed into a sunflower. She'd remained outside, always turning towards the sun, after her sister's death. Evelyn De Morgan’s depiction of her hangs at Wightwick Manor, West Midlands.