Summer solstice, the longest day of the year, is upon us. There will be 16 hours and 38 minutes of sunlight today, which is certainly something to make the most of. Here’s how you can celebrate.
There are plenty of traditional ways to celebrate this midsummer season from the comfort of your own home and get in touch with your spiritual side.
What is solstice?
The word solstice comes from the Latin ‘solstitium’ which can be translated to ‘sun stands still’. Solstice gets its name because on the day of summer solstice the sun lingers in the sky and stops moving at the northernmost point.
Solstice takes place twice a year- in both winter and summer. When the north pole is at its closet to the sun, this is called the summer solstice. In contrast, winter solstice occurs when the north pole is the furthest from the sun.
This is believed to be some of the earliest astronomical observations that have been made by humans and it can be seen marked on ancient calendars to keep track of the changing seasons.
The summer solstice always takes place between June 20-22 each year. This year, it falls on Monday 21 June, with over 16 hours of sunlight to be enjoyed.
How is summer solstice traditionally celebrated?
In many countries around the world solstice has been celebrated since prehistoric times. Historically, burning wheels were rolled down hills into bodies of water to signify the day the sun is at its peak diminishing in strength as winter closes in.
For modern neo-pagans, summer solstice is also known as Litha. Litha is an important date on the Wheel of the Year- which is an annual cycle of seasonal festivals. Litha is seen as a battle between light and dark and a time of change and new beginnings.
In celebration, large bonfires are held often burning oak (which is believed to be the noblest of trees) and aromatic herbs. These bonfires hold the same symbolism as the burning wheel, representing a reflection of the sun at the peak of its power.
At Stonehenge on the summer solstice, the sun rises behind the Heel Stone in the north-east part of the horizon and its first rays shine into the heart of Stonehenge.
Many also travel to Stonehenge in Wiltshire. Monuments like Stonehenge were believed to be used to track the suns progress, which is why it is so important to solstice. In previous years as many as 30,000 people have gathered to watch the rising and setting of the sun.
This year, because of social limitations, only small pre-booked groups from pagan and druid communities can attend in person. Luckily, the sunrise and sunset can still be watched by live stream on the English Heritage social media site.
Are Solstice and Midsummer the same thing?
Solstice is often associated and celebrated alongside Midsummer. Solstice is the beginning of the astronomical summer and Midsummer is a celebration that takes place over the solstice period.
So, while they are not technically the same thing, Midsummer is a pagan solstice celebration of the midpoint of growing season. As they are both pagan celebrations, the two tend to be used interchangeably and are often celebrated over the same period.
The date that Midsummer is held varies in different cultures, but it primarily takes place between the 19-25 of June which is one of the four ancient quarter days of the year. This halfway point between planting and harvest which is celebrated by maypole dancing, singing and feasting.
How can summer solstice be celebrated at home?
Travelling to Stonehenge to celebrate summer solstice this year might be off the table, but there are plenty of fun ways that the summer solstice period can be celebrated from home.
Mediation and yoga are both popular ways to celebrate solstice. It is a great opportunity to take time to reflect on the past season and think about setting new goals for the upcoming season.
There are hundreds of online classes that can be found on YouTube explaining how to meditate to get you started if you’re a beginner.
Have a bonfire
Bonfires are a traditional way to celebrate- Saxons were said to have held huge bonfires for the summer solstice. They have also been used for Midsummer eve celebrations since the sixth century AD to honour the fullness of the sun.
This is a fun way to take advantage of the extra light; dance, sing and play music to celebrate the longest day of the year.
Creating art is a fantastic way to celebrate the new summer season. Some summery art and craft ideas include flower crowns, felt suns and pressing flowers.
Most flowers are at their peak this time of year and are traditionally used in solstice celebrations, making flower arts and crafts a good choice.
Get involved in nature go on a run, for a swim or on a hike.
Gardening is also a good traditional choice – historically, Celts carried out solstice rituals, as it falls mid growing season, to ensure good harvest. Some of these rituals involved scattering coals left over from the bonfire to ensure a successful harvest season.
Eat a solstice feast
Making a delicious feast with seasonal and locally sourced ingredients is great way to celebrate. There are plenty of delicious vegetables and herbs at their peak this time of year.
Many berries are also at their ripest during midsummer. Eating strawberries is how many Swedes celebrate the start of summer, which is a perfect way to celebrate when considering how June’s full moon is also known as the ‘strawberry moon’.