Summer Solstice: What is it? Explaining the Longest Day of the Year
Since ancient times the summer solstice has been marked by various cultures around the globe – both as a date of mystery and a time for revelry. It is no wonder many different societies have acknowledged the solstice, given the Sun’s central role in early cultures as the giver of life and the solstice being the longest day of the year. But just what exactly is the summer solstice?
When is the first day of summer?
The first official day of summer, the longest day of the year (the day with the most sunlight) is always marked by the astronomical event called the summer solstice. That said, apart from recognizing the summer solstice as the first day of summer, different cultures and regions celebrate holidays in the late spring to usher in the summer season. Like Memorial Day in the US, these holidays celebrating religious or national events are traditionally associated with the start of summer primarily because they signify the transition to summer weather.
Given that the astronomical event signaling the first day of summer is usually three to four weeks after the traditional start of summer, the solstice is often referred to as midsummer. But don’t make the mistake of calling it the summer equinox. The vernal and autumnal equinoxes are different than the summer and winter solstices, although all four are astronomical events.
In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice date falls between June 20-22 every year. For those in the southern hemisphere, however, the season is flipped and the June solstice marks the official start of winter. Depending on which hemisphere you are in, the June solstice is either the longest or shortest day of the year. To avoid confusion, let’s move forward referring to the summer solstice as experienced in the northern hemisphere.
Technically speaking, the summer solstice is when the Sun is at its zenith in the sky and the Earth’s north pole is tilted most directly towards it.
What Is the Meaning of the Word Solstice?
The derivation of ‘solstice’ is two Latin words; ‘sol’ for the sun and ‘sistere’ which literally means “stands still”. So, the summer solstice meaning is ‘sun stands still’ which makes sense because at certain latitudes the sun actually does appear to be in the exact same spot at noon for several days.
The Summer Solstice, Festivals, Religion and Cultural Events
Festivals, celebrations and religious holidays have long marked the summer solstice for many cultures. Stonehenge in England is possibly the oldest marker indicative of the importance of the astronomical event in times gone by.
The event is, in effect, a midsummer celebration. Dancing, singing, and bonfires are among some of the summer solstice activities that can be experienced during festivities around the world. This is not the only reason to celebrate. This period holds tremendous cultural and traditional significance for many nations.
The Secret Solstice Festival, Reykjavik, Iceland: This is the home of the midnight sun. The sun sets at midnight on the eve of the solstice and rises mere hours later at around 3am. This is traditionally celebrated with a three day music festival, utilizing as many of the daylight hours presented.
Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England: Created by Neolithic builders using the most primitive of tools, Stonehenge’s amazing, yet baffling, construction is shrouded in mystery. It is still unknown as to what the structure was originally intended for, with many theories making the rounds. Some believe it to be an ancient burial ground while others refer to it as a temple of worship to the ancient gods. Whatever it was, today it is the attraction to which many pagans and druids are drawn to experience the sun rising above the stone circle which mystically aligns directly with the summer solstice sunrise.
Solstice Fires, Tyrol, Australia; Summer solstice Aboriginal Arts Festival, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Festival of St. Joan, Menorca, Spain; Midsummer, Stockholm, Sweden: These are all summer celebrations and all have their traditions firmly rooted in the culture of the area. The origins of these celebrations may vary from culture to culture, but for all the solstice is the heart.
Are you as mystified as I by the summer solstice and what it means to people all around the world? Want to learn more? Check out “The Magic of the Summer Solstice” by Danu Forest on Geeker. Discover the mystical history surrounding celebration sites and religious traditions that have been ongoing for centuries.