Why Do We Celebrate The Summer Solstice?

June 21, 2014

Photography credit: Charamelody

As we get closer to summer, we all know that the days start to get longer.

Suddenly it’s easier to get up in the morning to go to work, easier to stay out late in the evening without feeling tired and easier to pack weekends full of adventures and party until the sun goes down – absolutely marvellous!

Unfortunately, on the flipside, we also know that these magically long summer days can’t last forever. At some point they have to shorten again in order to prepare for the run-up to autumn and winter. But when exactly is that day, when the hours of sunlight in the day are at their greatest, and its rays peek into our bedrooms earlier than any other point in the year?

Actually folks, that would be today!


Photography credit: Chris

What is the Summer Solstice?

More often than not it’s a glance at the calendar that reminds us of the Sumer Solstice, but you’d think we’d make an effort to remember really, considering it plays a hugely important role in our lives and we’d be season-less and confused without it.

Taking place on 21st June each year, the Summer Solstice marks the day with the most hours of light and least darkness, and occurs when Earth’s natural tilt points it directly at the sun, giving the illusion that our planet is standing still before turning away again. The word “solstice” actually comes from two Latin words: “sol”, meaning sun and “sistere”, meaning to stand still.

Its counterpart, the Winter Solstice, occurs on 21st December, and just to confuse things even more if you’re living in the Southern Hemisphere, all this is flipped and you’re completely back to front. Bewildered yet? Stick with me.

Photography credit: Wessex Archaeology

Why does it happen?

Earth is on a tilt. Imagine that our planet is a cherry, and you stick a cocktail stick through the dead centre. Then pretend that you’re resting that spiked cherry in your glass at an angle of approximately 23 degrees. If you were to spin the cherry by twisting the cocktail stick and also spin the glass at the same time, you would almost be perfectly demonstrating how Earth rotates around the sun.

Notice that the angle of your cocktail stick never changes; sometimes the top of it faces the sun, and sometimes it faces away. When the top of the stick faces in, more of the Northern Hemisphere gets coverage per daily orbit. This is our summer. When the top of the stick points away, out of the glass, the Northern Hemisphere gets less coverage during it’s daily rotation, and this is our winter. It’s the opposite for the Southern Hemisphere.

The summer and winter solstices occur when the tilt of the earth is most inclined towards the sun. Just like your imaginary cocktail stick, the hypothetical axis on which the planet is spinning is directly facing (or opposing, during winter) the sun.

Photography credit: Chris

Who celebrates it?

Many of the Midsummer festivities we see today are inspired in part by traditional pagan celebrations. These folks were hugely devoted to the appreciation and love of Mother Earth, celebrating the turn of the year and the changing of the seasons. In contrast to the Yule solstice, the darkest part of the pagan year, the summer counterpart is known as Lithia.

Some modern day druids and pagans make an annual trip to Stonehenge in Wiltshire to celebrate the summer solstice beneath the ancient stone monument. Pagans and druids hold great reverence for stone circles, and  as the light cracks the sky at the dawn of the Summer Solstice, they perform spoken rituals and give thanks to the sun.

Photography credit: Lulu Lovering

How do I join in?

Many folks choose to join in and celebrate the sunrise at Stonehenge, but over the years one could argue this event has become almost “festival-like” in size and popularity. If this isn’t for you, don’t worry! There’s still a multitude of ways you can enjoy the longest day of the year.

Be outside. This has to be the most important one, who would want to be cooped up on the longest day of the year? Walk, run, cycle, it doesn’t matter, just get yourself out there!

Take your yoga mat into the garden… they’re called sun salutations for a reason!

Get dancing! My good friend Elizabeth told me that if you dance in the sun on Midsummer’s Day, you’ll go to bed that evening and dream of the man you’re destined to marry.

Get your Shakespeare on and read a Midsummer Night’s Dream. The bard was famous for mentioning the supernatural in his plays, and this famous story pays homage to the fey folk rumoured to wander the lands during the turning points of the year.

Light a bonfire in the evening, wave adieu to the memories of the first half of the year and prepare yourself for the next half. Feel cleansed and refreshed.

If you’re interested in reading more about pagan customs and beliefs, these articles from Witch Vox and The Pagan and the Pen do the subject far more justice than I ever could.

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