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It’s the longest day of the year!


A solstice is an astronomical event that occurs twice each year, when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is most inclined toward or away from the Sun, causing the Sun’s apparent position in the sky to reach its northernmost or southernmost extreme.┬áThe term solstice can also be used in a wider sense, as the date (day) when this occurs. The solstices, together with the equinoxes, are connected with the seasons. In some cultures they are considered to start or separate the seasons while in others they fall in the middle. The English expressions “midwinter” (winter solstice) and “midsummer” (summer solstice) may derive from a tradition according to which there were only two seasons: winter and summer. (Kind of like how it feels in Montreal… Only there it’s winter and construction season)

earth axis seasonal

“Solstice” is derived from two Latin words: “sol” meaning sun, and “sistere,” to cause to stand still. This is because, as the summer solstice approaches, the noonday sun rises higher and higher in the sky on each successive day. On the day of the solstice, it rises an imperceptible amount, compared to the day before. In this sense, it “stands still.”

(In the southern hemisphere, the summer solstice is celebrated in December, also when the night time is at a minimum and the daytime is at a maximum. I’ll assume that the readers live in the Northern hemisphere for the rest of this post.)

Significance of the summer solstice:

In pre-historic times, summer was a joyous time of the year for those Aboriginal people who lived in the northern latitudes. The snow had disappeared; the ground had thawed out; warm temperatures had returned; flowers were blooming; leaves had returned to the deciduous trees. Some herbs could be harvested, for medicinal and other uses. Food was easier to find. The crops had already been planted and would be harvested in the months to come. Although many months of warm/hot weather remained before the fall, they noticed that the days were beginning to shorten, so that the return of the cold season was inevitable.

The first (or only) full moon in June is called the Honey Moon. Tradition holds that this is the best time to harvest honey from the hives.┬áThis time of year, between the planting and harvesting of the crops, was the traditional month for weddings. This is because many ancient peoples believed that the “grand [sexual] union” of the Goddess and God occurred in early May at Beltaine. Since it was unlucky to compete with the deities, many couples delayed their weddings until June. June remains a favorite month for marriage today. In some traditions, “newly wed couples were fed dishes and beverages that featured honey for the first month of their married life to encourage love and fertility. The surviving vestige of this tradition lives on in the name given to the holiday immediately after the ceremony: The Honeymoon.

The two solstices and the equinoxes of the year are celebrated in most cultures and world traditions in some form or the other. A key idea behind the cause for these celebrations could be looked at like this: The solstices are the time of absolute, the MOST of the essence of the season. In the winter it is the darkest time, summer the lightest. The equinoxes are a time of shifting, of moving from one phase into the next. The spring is the time to celebrate the returning of sun and the fertility of the land. The autumn is a time to harvest what was planted in the spring, fed by the sun and also to store and preserve one’s resources, preparing for the cold and inwardness of winter. You can do your own research into different celebrations and rituals for this time of year. You might be surprised to learn that many of the Christian holidays have their roots in Pagan observances. I find that these points of the year are a good time to reflect on the meaning of the season for me and what I want to manifest or focus on while this element is strong.

Some good resources just to learn about the seasons and their passing are the Wikipedia Solstice entry and this entry from Religious Tolerance.

Summer Solstice- Painting by Mark Garro

Summer Solstice- Painting by Mark Garro


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