As a kid, I looked forward to the summer solstice. It signified school was about to end. I knew it was the longest day of the year which translated to more time after dinner to play outside with neighborhood kids. As an adult, summer solstice has means the beginning of summer. Last year I participated in a celebration where I discovered the historical, spiritual and practical meaning of the summer solstice.
Summer solstice, June 21, is the longest day because that day in the northern hemisphere receives more daylight than any other day of the year. It marks the start of astronomical summer and the tipping point at which days start to become shorter and nights longer.
Earth is tilted at about 23.5 degrees. As it rotates around the sun throughout the year, the northern and southern hemisphere experience half a year tilted toward the sun and the other half tilted away from it. This produces the cycle of the seasons.
Solstice celebrations around the world are joyous ones. “They’re about celebrating the abundance of the earth and all it gives us,” said Sue Greer, who is an ordained minister who practices a variety of energy medicine disciplines. “It’s about community, fertility, joy, celebration of life and abundance. We are honoring the earth.” Greer holds a summer solstice celebration each year at her church in Lewes, DE.
This natural event has been acknowledged and celebrated by Pagan and Christian cultures for thousands of years. 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. Some Christian churches recognize the summer solstice as St. John’s Day to commemorate the birth of John the Baptist.
Many Native American tribes took part in solstice rituals, some of which are still practiced today. 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.
Even 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.
“The central channel of a domed building in Newgrange Ireland, which was built 5,200 years ago, is flooded by sunlight at the exact time the sun rises on the summer solstice,” said Greer. “It was obviously very important to acknowledge and honor the solstice all those years ago. It’s as critical now as ever because we as a culture have gotten out of the cycles of nature,” she said. Celebrating the solstice, “helps you become more in balance and in touch with how the environment affects us.”
Archeologists have long debated the purpose and uses of the monument Stonehenge, in the south of England. The site is aligned with the direction of the sunrise on the summer solstice. Each year, thousands gather at Stonehenge to commemorate the longest day of the year and often celebrate all night.
Ways to Celebrate
Many cultures celebrate the summer solstice. Midsummer festivities are popular in Northern Europe where bonfires are lit, girls wear flowers in their hair and homes are decorated with garlands and other greenery.
Don’t have a celebration to go to? You can commemorate the solstice alone, with family or friends right in your own home or neighborhood.
Take a hike. Get off the beaten path, lace up those hiking boots, and prepare to sweat a little. There’s no better way to celebrate Summer Solstice than (a music and podcast-free) hike, allowing the only noise to be the sound of crunching dirt beneath your feet and birds singing in the trees.
• Bask in the sun’s glory. Get outside, go to a park, listen to the trees.
• Stargaze. Try getting out of the city limits to see stars more clearly. Congressional Cemetery is also a good location closer to home to better see the sky.
• Go camping. Enjoying immersing yourself in nature for
a night or two.
• Plant a garden or just a plant in your yard.
• Make a suncatcher, which is a traditional symbol of the summer solstice. Use beads that reflects sun into your home. You can find directions on-line.
• Make a list of your dreams. Focus on a few and commit to enacting meaningful changes. Think of this time as a new beginning.
• Review New Year resolutions. Now is the time to reaffirm them, tweak them or change them.
The summer solstice happens at the exact same moment – in 2023 that’s 10:58 am EDT Tuesday, June 21st – everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. I plan to mark the moment outside focusing on the environment around me. I also plan to set my intentions. It’s a time to be thankful, happy and look forward to the summer.
To contact Sue Greer: 302-228-3596. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pattie Cinelli is a health and fitness professional and journalist who has been writing her column for more than 25 years. She focuses on non-traditional ways to stay healthy, get fit and get well. Please email her with questions or column suggestions at: email@example.com.