✿ June Summer Solstice
The solstice heralds the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. In 2013, the solstice falls on Friday, June 21 at 5:04 Universal time, which is 1:04 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time and 12:04 A.M. Central Daylight Time.
But this year, the solstice happens on Thursday, June 20 for places in North America westof the Central Time Zone, occuring at 11:04 P.M Mountain Daylight Time and 10:04 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time.
The timing of the solstice depends on when the Sun reaches its farthest point north of the equator. The June solstice occurs when the sun is at its furthest point from the equator – it reaches its northernmost point and the Earth’s North Pole tilts directly towards the sun, at about 23.5 degrees. It is also known as the northern solstice because it occurs when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere. If the Earth's rotation was at right angles to the plane of its orbit around the sun, there would be no solstice days and no seasons.
Back in the day
In ancient times, the date of the June solstice was an important source to help people manage their calendars and organize when to plant and harvest crops. This time of year was also a traditional month for weddings. Some societies invested much effort to establish the length of the year.
Stonehenge was built around 3100 BCE. Some people believe that it was built to help establish when the summer solstice occurred. Interestingly, the sun rises at a particular point on the horizon as viewed from the centre of the stone circle on day of the June solstice. At that point the builders may have started counting the days of the year. Many other megalith structures in Europe may have been built for similar purposes, although reasons are still uncertain.
In ancient China, the summer solstice was observed by a ceremony to celebrate the Earth, femininity, and the “yin” forces. It complemented the winter solstice that celebrated the heavens, masculinity and “yang” forces. According to Chinese tradition, the shortest shadow is found on the day of summer solstice.
In many countries in Europe, Midsummer festivals or celebrations were held around the time of the June solstice. In ancient Gaul, the Midsummer celebration was called Feast of Epona, named after a mare goddess who personified fertility and protected horses. In ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes, many pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires. After Christianity spread in Europe and other parts of the world, many pagan customs were incorporated into the Christian religion. In many parts of Scandinavia, the Midsummer celebration continued but was observed around the time of St John’s Day, on June 24, to honor St John the Baptist instead of the pagan gods.
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. Usually performed during the June solstice, preparations for the 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).
There are many solstice observances held by New Age and Neopagan groups throughout the world. Thousands of people, including modern-day druids and pagans, usually gather at Stonehenge for this occasion.
In some parts of the United States, events that focus on the theme of the summer solstice are held. These events include: local festivals featuring art or music; environmental awareness activities that focus on using natural sunlight as a source of energy; and family gatherings.
In northern European countries such as Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, the Midsummer Festival is one of the most festive summer celebrations. Celebrations occur when the summer days are at their longest – and in the north it is the time of the midnight sun. Midsummer 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.
Meaning of the word
The word solstice is from the Latin word “solstitium”, meaning “sun-stopping”, because the point at which the sun appears to rise and set stops and reverses direction after this day. On this day, the sun does not rise precisely in the east, but rises to the north of east and sets to the north of west allowing it to be in the sky for a longer period of time. In the southern hemisphere, the June solstice is known as the shortest day of the year. It is when the sun has reached its furthest point from the equator and marks the first day of winter.
In temperate regions, we notice that the Sun is higher in the sky throughout the day, and its rays strike Earth at a more direct angle, causing the efficient warming we call summer.
Though the summer solstice is an instant in time, the term is also colloquially used like midsummer to refer to the day on which it occurs. The summer solstice occurs on the day that has the longest period of daylight – except in the polar regions, where daylight is continuous, from a few days to six months around the summer solstice.
Enjoy the longest day of the year!
The Fitness Fairy ™ April Clark