Today, in the Northern Hemisphere, we celebrate the beginning of summer and the longest day of the year. Solstice comes from the Latin words ‘sol’ - sun, and ‘sistere’ - to stand still, meaning the day when the sun stands still. During the northern summer solstice, the sun stops its northward motion and begins heading south.Today, due to the fact that the Earth’s axial tilt is most inclined towards the Sun, the North Pole is tipped closer to the sun than any other day in 2013. Actually throughout the entire summer the North Pole stays in full sunlight all day long and this is the reason why the Arctic is called the land of the Midnight Sun. After the Summer Solstice, the sun starts to sink towards the horizon.
While it’s the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, in the Southern Hemisphere it’s the beginning of winter. Antarctica, at the bottom of the Earth, is currently isolated by winter storms and perpetual darkness.
The summer solstice is recognized and often celebrated in many cultures around the world, in both the past and present. Although there are differences between cultures, there are also some striking similarities. Bonfires are set on hilltops. People dance around the fires. In many places, after the fire has died away and only the hot coals are remaining, children will be lifted across the coals to be blessed and cleansed by the smoke. And many different places have monuments designed so that during the solstice, they will line up with the sun.
Celebrating the Summer Solstice
The Chinese mark the day by honoring Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light.
In Ancient Egypt, summer solstice was the most important day of the year. The sun was at its highest and the Nile River was beginning to rise. Ra, the Sun deity, is one of the gods honored at the time of the Summer Solstice along with Horus.The Great Pyramids was built so that the sun, when viewed from the Sphinx, sets precisely between two of the pyramids on the summer solstice.
The Celts and Slavs celebrated the first day of summer by lighting bonfires to increase the sun’s energy.
In Russian and Ukrainian mythology, the evening before the solstice is the only time that ferns bloom. Because finding a fern flower is supposed be a sign of future wealth, many people will be out in the forests and gardens looking for this lucky sign.
The name for the festival of the summer solstice in Druidry is Alban Hefin, which means ‘The Light of the Shore’. Many people make an annual pilgrimage to the ancient site of Stonhenge, on England’s Salisbury Plain, to celebrate the first day of summer. Stonehenge has been associated with the winter and summer solstices for about 5,000 years. Observers in the center of the standing stones can watch the summer solstice sun rise directly over the Heel Stone, which stands just outside Stonehenge’s famous circle.
Prior to the arrival of Christianity to northern Europe, cultures celebrated the arrival of the June solstice because it was seen as one of the few times of the year when magic was at its most powerful. When Europe became mostly Christian the festivals stayed but turned into a celebration of St John the Baptist. To this day, Christians in many parts of the world celebrate St John’s Day, which takes place on 24th June.
The Summer Solstice is a time to be happy. It is a time to remove unwanted things from your life. It is a time to dance and sing and spread joy and be filled with love.