As we leave the spring behind, and summer begins, it is time to celebrate the summer solstice.
As you probably know, the summer solstice, also known as the estival solstice, takes place around June 21st (depending on the year, it can also take place on June 20th or on June 22nd). On the day of the summer solstice, the Earth’s maximum axial tilt is at 23.44 degrees. This means that it is the longest day of the year in the Northerner Hemisphere, and the shortest day of the year in the Southern Hemisphere.
Solstice celebrations, which are as old as civilization itself, are more popular than ever. Here’s a list of some the best solstice celebrations throughout the centuries.
The Ancient Romans celebrated Vestalia from June 7th to the 15th to honor the goddess Vesta. In the ancient Roman pantheon, Vesta was the goddess of the hearth, a corollary to the Greek goddess Hestia. On the first day of the Vestalia, the Temple of Vesta opened and married women were allowed in to leave offerings to Vesta in exchange for blessing them and their families; married women were not allowed in the temple at any other time of the year.
Erected sometime between 3000 and 2000 B.C., Stonehenge remains one of the most poorly understood megalithic structures on the planet. While Stonehenge’s precise relationship to the solstice remains unclear, there is certainly an important connection; if you stand at the right place inside of Stonehenge on the day of the northern summer solstice and face northeast, you will see the sun rise above the Heel Stone, which is a large stone that sits just outside of the entrance to Stonehenge earthwork. Clearly, whomever built Stonehenge and whatever their intent, they definitely had the summer solstice in mind. However, there is no evidence that any actual solstice celebrations were held here until modern times.
During the summer solstice, the ancient Chinese celebrated Yin, the concept of femininity in relation to the earth. This practice was balanced with celebrating the concept of Yang, Yin’s opposite, during the winter solstice. Although the ancient Chinese believed summer to be the height of the Yang season, they celebrated the solstice as the coming of Yin. The opposite is true of the winter solstice, when they celebrated the coming of of Yang.
For the ancient Egyptians, the solstice marked the coming of the star Sirius in mid-July, the brightest star in the night sky, which also marked the beginning of the raining season. As the rain accumulated and the Nile flooded, it once again replenished the land. In fact, the returning of Sirius was so important to the ancient Egyptians that it was their new year.
Seattle is home to one of the largest summer solstice celebrations in North America, The Fremont Fair. The fair kicks off with a colorful parade in the heart of Fremont, complete with nude bicyclists.
In Reykjavik, thousands of people come from all over the world to the Secret Solstice Music Festival, which, by all accounts, isn’t so secret. Because Iceland is so far north, the sun sets after midnight and rises again just before 3 am on the summer solstice. No wonder Iceland is sometimes called “The Land of the Midnight Sun.”
While we don’t know a lot about the culture that erected Stonehenge, modern pagans, druids, and festival goers make it one of the biggest solstice celebrations on the globe, with nearly 40,000 people per year in attendance. Many participants stay up all night to watch the sunrise the morning of the solstice.
Times Square, New York
Replacing all of the hubbub that we usually associate with Times Square, The Times Square Alliance puts on free yoga in the middle of Times Square, attracting thousands of Yogis. The yoga goes from sunrise to sunset. So, you can do a downward facing dog, move into child’s pose, and contort your body in what is usually the busiest square in the world
So, whether you decide to head to Seattle and jump on your bike naked, rock out in Reykjavic, or do yoga in Times Square, if you decide to celebrate the summer solstice, one thing is certain, you have plenty of options to choose from.
Matthew Groner is a Staff Writer for Sporcle. He enjoys foraging for gourmet mushrooms and calculating the odds of the Kansas City Chiefs winning a Super Bowl in his lifetime.