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Let the sun shine in: Celebrate the summer solstice

Post by Cheryl Tucker on June 20, 2013 at 10:39 am with No Comments »
June 20, 2013 10:39 am
Stonehenge is a favorite spot for ushering in the summer solstice. The ancient stone circle of Stonehenge is a World Heritage Site erected between approximately 3000 B.C. and 1600 B.C. and despite years of research the reason behind its construction remains a mystery. The summer solstice in the northern hemisphere occurs annually on June 21 and is the time at which the sun is at its northernmost point in the sky. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Stonehenge in England is a favorite spot for ushering in the summer solstice. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Summer sneaks in at 10:04 tonight for those of us on Pacific Daylight Time. Friday is the first full day of the season, with the most hours of daylight all year. We’ll have 15 hours and 56 minutes of daylight Friday, then it’s all downhill from there. On Saturday, we’ll have 15 hours and 55 minutes.

For most Northwesterners, summer is what we wait for, what we consider our reward for enduring all those dreary days between November and early June.

So enjoy. And learn a little about the solstice from the Old Farmer’s Almanac, here. The editors also offer 10 ways to celebrate summer and explain why the longest day of the year isn’t also the hottest day of the year.

Here’s an interesting article by Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam about the onset of summer.

By Alex Beam
The Boston Globe

Alone among the notable days in the year, there stands the summer solstice, in splendid, sun-drenched isolation. It starts Friday (for those living east of the Central Time Zone), the longest day of the year, when the sun (Latin “sol”) stands still (“sistere”) and shines for slightly over 15 hours.

Why no love for the summer solstice, a day when you can do whatever you like outdoors from dawn to dusk and then some?

Every religion in the world has embraced the summer solstice’s wintry counterpart, Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year. The Romans bacchanalized on the Saturnalia holiday, China still observes the December Dongzhi festival, and the Scandinavian St. Lucy’s Day (Dec. 13) commemorates the winter solstice of the old, pre-Gregorian calendar.

Hanukkah, the Hebrew festival of light, can fall any time between late November and late December, bracketing the winter solstice. Perhaps you’ve heard of Christmas? A solstice ritual, pure and simple. Jesus Christ is 2,013 years old. Sun worship is ageless.

The Christian church likewise put a double hammerlock on the vernal equinox, which occurs in late March. It is no accident, as the Marxists used to say, that the Feast of Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary falls on March 25, near the date of the spring (vernal) equinox. Easter, which celebrates rebirth and resurrection, occurs soon after the vernal equinox, informally known as the first day of spring.

But the Christians have left summer to fend for itself. The purported birthday of John the Baptist occurs on June 24, but who remembers that? Homeopathic doctors, perhaps; the medicinal herb St. John’s wort is traditionally harvested on John’s birthday.

The church calendar calls this season Ordinary Time. Are you kidding? No! Extraordinary time! You can take longer bike rides, and you can ignore Mom’s pleas to come indoors. The stifling July heat waves are still weeks away. Chase the ice cream truck, play stoop ball, go bird-watching, or go out to sea and stay there. Saturday morning is for sleeping in.

The pagans celebrated the summer solstice with the hoopla it deserved. Often called Litha, the holiday feted the wedding of heaven and earth at midsummer, which made the time propitious for human weddings as well. Latter-day druids and their ilk like to congregate at Great Britain’s Stonehenge around this time of year. The stones align perfectly with the rising sun of the summer solstice, prompting speculation that the site was a celestial observatory, circa 4,000 years ago.

The Northern Europeans don’t take sunlight for granted, and Midsummer Night festivals proliferate from Shakespeare’s homeland north to the Arctic Circle. Sweden’s official website has a helpful video explaining the “holiday devoted to eating, drinking, dancing, and assorted pagan rituals, second only in significance to Christmas.” The giddy Swedes head for the countryside to gobble pickled herring, hop through the “little frogs” dance and frolic in the rain; “No midsummer is complete without a sudden downpour,” we learn.

Across the peninsula, the dour Norwegians seem to be having much less fun. “While the Swedes get the day off,” Oslo’s official website notes, “June 23 is a normal workday in Norway.”

Me, I’m a child of darkness. My favorite religious holiday is Tenebrae (“Shadows”), the dying of the light before Easter Sunday. But I think we’re all phototropic at heart, plant-like enough to crave the sun.

I’m not trying to push some new coinage on the world, such as Festivus, the “alternative” Christmas bruited on “Seinfeld,” or its cutoff cardigan cousin, Vestival, a December holiday when everyone is supposed to wear vests. And I’m not suggesting that the world’s great religions walk back the cat and recognize the solstice. But I want you to have a good time on June 21, and recognize it for what it is: A great, free gift of sunlight, from nature, with love.

Go skateboarding, throw horseshoes, or hang out on the porch and complain about all the silly rubbish the newspapers are printing. Enjoy yourself, and advise others to do the same.

Alex Beam is a Boston Globe columnist. Email him at
(c) Copyright 2013 The New York Times

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