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Welcoming the Summer Solstice

Let’s welcome the Summer Solstice, Friday, June 21st at 1:04 AM EDT, the day with the most hours of sunlight during the whole year. Of the sun, Pliny wrote: “He furnishes the world with light and removes darkness; he obscures and he illuminates the rest of the stars; he regulates in accord with nature’s precedent the changes of the seasons and the continuous rebirth of the year; he dissipates the gloom of heaven and even calms the storm clouds of the mind of man . . .”

Sol + stice derives from a combination of Latin words meaning “sun”  and “sistere” - “to stand still.” As the days lengthen, the sun rises higher and higher until it seems to stand still in the sky. As a major celestial event, the Summer Solstice results in the longest day and the shortest night of the year. The Northern Hemisphere celebrates in June and the people on the Southern half of the earth have their longest summer day in December. 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.

Some history on the Summer Solstice:

  • Civilizations in the northern areas have for centuries celebrated the Summer Solstice, otherwise known as Midsummer, the Christian St. John’s Day or the Wiccan Litha.
  • The Celts & Slavs celebrated with dancing and bonfires to help increase the sun’s energy.
  • The Chinese marked the day by honoring Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light.
  • Perhaps the most enduring modern ties with Summer Solstice were the Druids’ celebration of the day as the “wedding of Heaven and Earth,” resulting in the present day belief of a “lucky” wedding in June. Pagan spirit gatherings or festivals are also common in June, when groups gather to light a sacred fire, and stay up all night to welcome the dawn. Pagans called the Midsummer moon the “Honey Moon” for the mead made from fermented honey that was part of wedding ceremonies performed at the Summer Solstice. Ancient Pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires, when couples would leap through the flames, believing their crops would grow as high as the couples were able to jump.
  • Midsummer was thought to be a time of magic, when evil spirits were said to appear. To thwart them, Pagans often wore protective garlands of herbs and flowers. One of the most powerful of them was a plant called ‘chase-devil,’ which is known today as St. John’s Wort and still used by modern herbalists as a mood stabilizer.

Discover more on the scientific explanation of the solstice from Windows To the Universe and Science World at Wolfram Research.

For more on various religious beliefs regarding the beginning of summer, visit here.

And as you recall, Shakespeare immortalized the solstice in his “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

And now, if any are offended with this story of fairies and their pranks, as judging it incredible and strange, they have only to think that they have been asleep and dreaming, and that all these adventures were visions which they saw in their sleep: and I hope none of my readers will be so unreasonable as to be offended with a pretty harmless Midsummer Night’s Dream.

                    -- William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

For me, I will happily raise a toast to the spirit of Summer in hopes you have a safe and happy time!

Article by Jerry Samford, Environmental Compliance Specialist, Troutman Sanders

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