What is the Summer Solstice?
The Summer Solstice marks Midsummers day where the number of hours of daylight are at their maximum, usually 21st June.
The word ‘solstice’ comes from the Latin words for sun (sol) and to stand (sistere). It’s the time of year when the position of the rising or setting ‘sun stands still’ in its movement along the horizon. During the summer solstice, the earth’s axis is tilted at its closest point from the sun. This means that in the northern hemisphere, the sun is at its highest point in the sky. It’s also the longest day of the year – and the shortest night.
The sun’s position remains in pretty much the same place for a few days either side. For Neolithic people, sunlight would have been crucial – for warmth for them and their animals and for helping their crops to grow.
Stonehenge in the UK has been a centre for ritual celebrations of the Solstice for many, many,years. The ancient stones are lined up to frame the rising of the Sun on the Solstice suggesting a connection to the day and as a celebration of the Sun. The stones also mark the position of the sunset of the Winter Solstice. It would have been relatively easy for prehistoric people to observe the rising and setting positions of the sun each day, and to mark these orientations from any given spot.
Elsewhere around the World, celebrations range from the bi-annual appearance of the Feathered Serpant Shadow on the Pyramid Chichen Itza in Mexico to many floral tributes and events in Sweden.
In the Southern Hemisphere the Summer Solstice falls in December and is strongly associated with Christmas. The 21st was once the day of the December Celebration until various calender changes shifted the dates apart making Christmas Day 25th December.