The Summer Solstice

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Every year around June 20-22, we celebrate the Summer Solstice – the day with the most hours of sunlight. On the Summer Solstice, the sun appears to stand still in the sky. More scientifically, the noontime elevation does not change. Learn more about this unique day in which cultures around the world celebrate the Sun and the beginning of the Summer season.

The Summer Solstice

Solstice comes from the Latin (sol = sun; sistit = stands). For several days before and after each solstice, the sun appears to stand still in the sky – that is, its noontime elevation does not seem to change. In the northern hemisphere, the longest day of the year (near June 22) when the Sun is farthest north. In the southern hemisphere, winter and summer solstices are exchanged. The summer solstice marks the first day of the season of summer. The declination of the Sun on the (northern) summer solstice is known as the tropic of cancer (23 degrees 27′). The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, respectively, in the sense that the length of time elapsed between sunrise and sunset on this day is a maximum for the year. Of course, daylight saving time means that the first Sunday in April has 23 hours and the last Sunday in October has 25 hours, but these human meddlings with the calendar and do not correspond to the actual number of daylight hours. In Chicago, there are 15:02 hours of daylight on the summer solstice of June 21, 1999.

The summer solstice is an astronomical term regarding the position of the sun in relation to the celestial equator. At the time of the summer solstice, Earth is at a point in its orbit where one hemisphere is most tilted towards the sun, causing the sun to appear at 23.45 degrees above the celestial equator, thus making its highest path across the sky. The summer solstice is the day of the year with the longest daylight period and hence the shortest night. This day usually occurs on June 21/June 22 in the northern hemisphere and on December 21/December 22 in the southern hemisphere. The actual date changes due to differences between the calendar year and the tropical year.

The solar term ‘Xiazhi’ in Chinese Astronomy

‘Xiazhi’ is the solar term that begins when Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 90 degreesand ends when its celestial longitude is 105 degrees. It sometimes refers in particular to the day when Sun is exactly at the celestial longitude of 90 degrees. It usually begins around June 21, and ends around July 7.

When observing the cycle of the Sun, ancient Chinese simply used a pole about 8 feet long, posted at right angles to the ground and recorded positions of the shadow. Then they found the length of a year is around 365.25 days. They even divided the year’s cycle into 24 Segments, including the Vernal Equinox, Autumnal Equinox, Summer Solstice and Winter Solstice, using the sunrise and Dipper positions. They used six concentric circles, marked the 24-Segment points, divided the circles into 24 sectors and recorded the length of shadow every day. The shortest shadow is found on the day of Summer Solstice. The longest shadow is found on the day of Winter Solstice. After connecting each lines and dimming Yin Part from Summer Solstice to Winter Solstice, the Sun chart looks like the picture at the right. The ecliptic angle 23 26′ 19” of the Earth can be seen in this chart.


With the warmth of the season caressing the land, the celebration of the Summer Solstice brings forth a truly joyous recognition that we can now enjoy the fruits of our labors in the past season. It is not surprising that this same spirit of pleasure and fun had carried over into our modern-day recognition of this, the longest day of the year. Falling on or about June 22nd, the Summer Solstice is a time of light and of fire. It is a time to reflect upon the growth of the season: the seeds that were planted in the earth and the seeds planted in our souls. It is a time of cleansing and renewal. It is a time of love and growth as well. This is the time of the first harvest, which usually consisted of the herbs planted during the Vernal Equinox. Used for food, medicines and ritual, these gifts of the land clearly denote the importance of the harvest and the cycle of growth to the body, mind and soul.

With all the reference to the cycle of life, it is small wonder that June has been the month for both Handfastings (trothing to one another in the Olde Way) and weddings. The pull to bring forth the harvest of feelings is as bountiful as the harvest of the land. Even today, as we enjoy our summer vacations, we, too, reap the bounty of the past season of labor and renew ourselves to face the coming of fall. The moon of Midsummer is, in pagan tradition, called the “Honey Moon” from the mead made of fermented honey drunk after the many marriage ceremonies held on the Summer Solstice.

The summer solstice along with the winter solstice, vernal equinox, and autumnal equinox were discovered by people in the northern hemisphere and originally referred to northern hemisphere seasons. Midsummer is the time around the summer solstice. There are traditional holidays celebrated in Northern Europe and elsewhere at this time. In Denmark midsummers eve is known as Sankt Hans Aften. Bonfires are lit on beaches throughout the land as darkness comes and effigies and fireworks are thrown into the fires.

Summer Solstice is also celebrated as a Wiccan sabbat, called Litha. Every year, a celebration takes place at Stonehenge. In the USA, Canada, and some other countries, the summer solstice is regarded as the start of summer. In other countries, including Ireland, the UK, China, and Japan, the summer solstice is regarded as midsummer. For example, in Ireland, summer begins on May 1 and ends on July 31. Similary, traditional East Asian calendars (see jieqi) refers to the summer solstice as the “extreme of summer” and not the start. The Slavs celebrate the shortest night of the year as St. John’s Night.

Solstice, Midsummer or Litha means a stopping or standing still of the sun. It is the longest day of the year and the time when the sun is at its maximum elevation. This date has had spiritual significance for thousands of years as humans have been amazed by the great power of the sun. The Celts celebrated with bonfires that would add to the sun’s energy, Christians placed the feast of St John the Baptist towards the end of June and it is also the festival of Li, the Chinese Goddess of light. Like other religious groups, Pagans are in awe of the incredible strength of the sun and the divine powers that create life. For Pagans this spoke in the Wheel of the Year is a significant point. The Goddess took over the earth from the horned God at the beginning of spring and she is now at the height of her power and fertility.

For some Pagans the Summer Solstice marks the marriage of the God and Goddess and see their union as the force that creates the harvest’s fruits. This is a time to celebrate growth and life but for Pagans, who see balance in the world and are deeply aware of the ongoing shifting of the seasons it is also time to acknowledge that the sun will now begin to decline once more towards winter. When celebrating midsummer Pagans draw on diverse traditions. In England thousands of Pagans and non-Pagans go to places of ancient religious sites such as Stonehenge and Avebury to see the sun rising on the first morning of summer. Many more Pagans hold small ceremonies in open spaces, everywhere from gardens to woodlands.



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This entry was posted on Saturday, May 11th, 2024 at 11:05 am and is filed under Articles.

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20 000 people at Stonehenge to celebrate Summer Solstice | Level Beyond said:

on June 22nd, 2010

[…] The Summer Solstice Related Reading: The Shrine of Wisdom Summer Solstice 1932 Solving Stonehenge: The Key to an Ancient Enigma Stonehenge: A Novel The Longest Day: Celebrating the Summer Solstice Share and Enjoy: […]

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