This article was written by Nicole Ball.
The summer solstice or “midsummer” happens today, but how much do you really know about it?
Is it more than a celestial alignment? Were monuments really constructed in honor of this annual event? How do we celebrate today? We try to answer these questions, but would love your input as well!
Set Your Clocks
According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the start of summer in the northern hemisphere was 1:16 p.m. Monday. According to TimeandDate.com, the date of the "June solstice" varies from June 20 to June 22 depending on the year, in the Gregorian calendar (there will not be another June 22 solstice until 2203). Celebrate by taking your lunch outside today to welcome the season.
The Farmer’s Almanac states that "the word solstice comes from the Latin words for "sun" and "to stop," due to the fact that the sun appears to stop in the sky.” With the sun high overhead today, this will be the longest day of the year. How do you spend your longer days? More time outside or more hours working? We think we know the answer to this one.
Although there’s no official word on the purpose of Stonehenge, this circle monument made from stone might have been specifically constructed for today's celestial occurrence. Perhaps this is the reason thousands of people head to Stonehenge, located just outside Wiltshire, England, every year to celebrate the summer solstice.
According to History.com, the monument is built on the solstice alignment and for more than a century, people gathered to celebrate the occasion. In 1985, according to the website, the celebrations were cancelled and then re-instated again in 2000. An average of 30,000 people, mostly neo-pagan groups, flock to Stonehenge for the celebration. See photos of last year’s celebration on June 21, 2010, on the Huffington Post or on the Washington Post websites. You can also visit the monument’s official website here.
Origins and Celebrations
It’s hard to find a lot of information about the origins of the Summer Solstice or “equinox.” According to Timeanddate .com, “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.” The website adds that this is the traditional time of the year for weddings.
“In ancient China, the summer solstice,” they report, “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.” Other cultures have different celebrations or exact meanings of the celebration but many refer to femininity and fertility.
Most commonly associated with Pagan traditions, the website states that the summer solstice or “midsummer,” was marked by in ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes 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, the website states that Native American tribes held rituals to honor the sun and that the Sioux were most well known for theirs.
In addition to dancing, the Suiox would paint their bodies in the symbolic colors of red (sunset), blue (sky), yellow (lightning), white (light), and black (night).
How Can You Celebrate?
There will be a summer solstice celebration at 11 a.m. on June 23 at the Queens Botanical Garden. It will include a bird and nature walk, children's games, a garden tour and face painting.