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Summer Solstice- What is it?

The June Solstice, or Summer Solstice as we call it in the Northern Hemisphere, usually occurs between the 20th and 22nd of June- this year it is on the 21st. The Summer Solstice is known as the longest day of the year and has been celebrated by many different cultures throughout the centuries. Although its occurrence is a natural phenomenon based on science, there are a variety of superstitions that surround this occasion.

Summer Solstice
"Letting Go" by Liam Moloney is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Myths Surrounding the Summer Solstice

Historically, many religious and non-religious groups attached superstitious significance to the June Solstice. During midsummer, as it is commonly referred to, many Northern European cultures believed that certain golden flowers had miraculous healing powers if picked on that night. However, today there are only a few myths that have endured. One of these rumors states that during midsummer, you can balance an egg upright on your table. Although this sounds great and would be a fantastic trick to show your friends, it is merely a myth. Even though a closer look at some of these folklores surrounding midsummer can provide some interesting information, the science behind it is just as fascinating.

What Causes the Solstice?

The Summer Solstice occurs when the Earth has reached its maximum axial tilt towards the sun. As it orbits around the sun, the earth also changes its tilt on its axis. This tilt, which is around 23˚ at its greatest point, causes the earth to have different seasons like summer and winter. As the earth tilts on its axis, different parts of the earth become more or less exposed to the sun’s rays each day. Because of this, the northern and southern hemispheres have exactly opposite seasons; for example, the American solstice is actually the Winter Solstice for Australia. Interestingly, some parts of the North Pole receive light 24 hours a day, while the South Pole and some surrounding areas are in darkness for those same 24 hours during the month of June. Even though this event is based on natural orbits and movement, it has been used in the past to celebrate a variety of significant events.

Historical Celebrations

Even though ancient societies didn’t necessarily know the causes behind the Summer Solstice, it still represented an important day in many societies and each culture had their own unique way of celebrating it. Midsummer was especially important for the ancient Egyptians because it marked the beginning of the Nile’s flooding season. During the celebration, Egyptians not only made preparations for the upcoming floods but also gave thanks for the abundance of crops that the river helped to provide. Another culture that held festivities on this day were the Greeks. For the ancient Greeks, this event marked the one month countdown to the Olympic Games. Just as many ancient societies celebrated midsummer, today there are a variety of ways in which we commemorate this event.

Summer Solstice Today

Although there are still large festivals held all over the world celebrating the coming of a new season, most people today have their own traditions. For many people, Summer Solstice marks the beginning of another summer and they use the extra daylight to celebrate with an evening picnic at the park or attend an outdoor concert. Also, midsummer is a great time to plan your summer- whether it’s summer camps for the kids, a family vacation, or even signing up for a self-improvement class or parent’s club. Regardless of how you choose to celebrate, the solstice marks the beginning of summer and a fresh beginning.

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