Summer arrives late this afternoon on the East Coast at 5:44 PM when the Sun reached the Tropic of Cancer. People living there would have seen the sun pass directly overhead at Noon. The Solstice is the 24 hour period during the year when the most daylight hits the Northern Hemisphere. The Sun’ angle relative to the Earth’s Equator changes so gradually close to the Solstice that, without instruments, the shift s difficult to perceive for about 10 days. It appears that the sun has stopped moving, thus the origin of the word “solstice” which means “solar standstill.”
The Summer Solstice has has links to many ancient cultural practices as different cultures have celebrated it being symbolic of renewal, fertility and harvest. At Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, where the rising sun and the ancient stones align on the Solstices, hundreds of Pagans and non-Pagans gather each Summer Solstice to celebrate at dawn. Another ritual is a fire ritual to celebrate the occasion. People with unlit candles forming a circle around a large central candle and lighting theirs off it one at a time.
This year Summer begins in the late afternoon, early evening. I strongly suspect the celebrations will last through the night until dawn, especially at Stonehenge.
In Sweden, it’s traditional to eat your way through the entire day. Feasts typically involve lots of potatoes and herring. In 1982, French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, and by Maurice Fleuret created Fête de la Musique, also known as Music Day, which is celebrated on the Solsttice. citizens of a city or country are allowed and urged to play music outside in their neighborhoods or in public spaces and parks. Free concerts are also organized, where musicians play for fun and not for payment. It is now celebrated around the world in 120 countries.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the June solstice marks the beginning of winter.
The start of Summer 2020 will also be marked by anther solar event with an annular solar eclipse that will occur on the weekend of the solstice. It will begin just before midnight (Eastern Time) on Saturday, June 20, and reaching its maximum point at 2:40 AM EDT on the 21st. Annular eclipses are very similar to total solar eclipses, but instead of covering the Sun completely, the Moon only covers most of the Sun, leaving a thin, shining ring—called an “annulus” or “ring of fire”—around the Moon’s dark shape. Although this event will no be visible in North American, you can watch it live on YouTube starting at 1:00 AM EDT on Sunday, June 21, here: Annular Solar Eclipse Livestream
ONCE, HUMANS were intimate with the cycles of nature, and never more than on the summer solstice. Vestiges of such awareness survive in White Nights and Midnight Sun festivals in far northern climes, and in neo-pagan adaptations of Midsummer celebrations, but contemporary people take little notice of the sun reaching its far point on the horizon. Tomorrow is the longest day of the year, the official start of the summer season, the fullest of light – yet we are apt to miss this phenomenon of Earth’s axial tilt, as we miss so much of what the natural world does in our surrounds.
In recent months, catastrophic weather events have dominated headlines as rarely before – earthquakes and tsunami in Asia; volcanic cloud in Europe; massive ice melts at the poles; tornadoes, floods, and fires in America. “Records are not just broken,” an atmospheric scientist said last week, “they are smashed.” Without getting into questions of causality, and without anthropomorphizing nature, we can still take these events as nature’s cri de coeur – as the degraded environment’s grabbing of human lapels to say, “Pay attention!”
Tonight light a fire, even if it’s just a candle, put your bare feet inthe warming earth and look to the sky in wonder.