Celebrating The Summer Solstice

By Eilis Flynn

The summer solstice transcends culture and religion, known under many different names, meaning different things for different peoples. For ancient cultures, it marked the middle of summer; for astronomers it marks the beginning of summer; and for Christians it marks the birth of John the Baptist. Then again, the date differs too: depending on the calendar you go by, it could be June 24 or June 21. No matter how you look at it, though, there’s a celebration somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere just about then, whether it’s known as the summer solstice, Litha, Ivan Kupala Day, Ukon Juhla, Jaanipäev, Alban Heflin, or St. John’s Feast.


For us, it’s the official first day of summer, when the hours of daylight are the longest. The term “solstice” is derived from the Latin, “sol” meaning “sun,” and “sistere,” meaning to “cause to stand still.” This refers to the phenomenon that on the day of the solstice, the sun does not appear to rise any farther compared to the day before, and so, in that sense, it “stands still.”


When did humankind first recognize the summer solstice and celebrate it as a turning point? It’s impossible to say – although there are as many theories about it as there are civilizations and cultures, both past and present. A remarkable number of ancient cultures built tombs, temples, and sacred observatories so that they aligned with the solstices and the equinoxes; after all, Stonehedge is a perfect marker of both solstices, and even older is Newgrange, a site in Ireland, apparently built to receive a shaft of sunlight into its central chamber on the winter solstice. There are sacred sites celebrating the summer solstice in the Americas and Asia as well.


Overall, the summer solstice is a magical time. It’s not just the ancient cultures, either. One modern-day celebration is the Summer Solstice Parade & Pageant, in a neighborhood of Seattle, WA, which has in recent years included
bodypainted naked cyclists:


Copyright 2007 Eilis Flynn