The Summer Solstice Meaning

Updated May 31, 2022 | Infoplease Staff

Have you ever heard of Midsummer? Not only was this portion of the year memorialized by William Shakespeare in his seminal work, "A Midsummer Night's Dream", but it has long been an important time for crops, calendars, and religious individuals throughout history.

What does the summer solstice mean, where does it come from, and why is it important? Read on to explore the origins of the June solstice in the northern hemisphere and familiarize yourself with some of the historical traditions associated with it.

What Is the Summer Solstice?

In short, a summer solstice definition revolves around the shape of the Earth's orbit past the Sun. Because the plane of orbit is not perfectly even, and the Earth's axis tilts differently depending on the season, the summer and winter solstice are days that get varying degrees of sunlight.

In fact, the summer solstice is the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, while the winter solstice is the shortest– all thanks to the tilt of the Earth's axis at the farthest point of its orbit.

What Happens During the Summer Solstice?

To get even more scientific, because the Earth essentially wobbles at a 23.45° rotational axis angle, of declination, depending on how far north or south you live, the more sunlight will be experienced on Tuesday, June 21st, 2022.

For example, the Arctic Circle sits at 66.5° North and experiences the most daylight hours during the summer solstice, thanks to its relative proximity to the Sun’s rays. 

In contrast, the South Pole and Antarctic Circle are situated at 66.5° South and receive zero hours of daylight on the shortest day of the year, during the same solstice, as the lower hemisphere’s angle decreases and is tilted away from the Sun.

The History of the Summer Solstice

The summer solstice is very old. Back in the days of the Greeks and Romans, it occurred in close proximity to the early Olympics and the celebrations of strength, agriculture, and fertility that were held– particularly during the festivals of Kronia and Vestalia.

The word "solstice" comes from the Latin word for the Sun, "sol", and the verb "sistere": to stop, be stationary. Together, the word “solstitium” was formed, and its use was carried forward into Old French and Old English vocabularies, including Anglo-Saxon literature.

For many Neolithic cultures in Europe, the solstices marked important agricultural dates and helped time crop cycles. Due to this, groups of Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, and Viking peoples frequently viewed the summer solstice as a time for celebration and connection with the land, magic, and religion.

As a famous example, Stonehenge seems to have been created to align with the solstice and line up with the path the Sun travels on the longest day of the year. Of course, there are no written records that explicitly state the monolith’s purpose, but many speculate that such stone circles had something to do with solstice observation and celebration.

In fact, as an annual tribute to our ancestors who honored the summer solstice, a festival is held at Stonehenge to continue commemorating both solstices and the changing seasons.

When Is the Summer Solstice?

Because the Earth tilts on its access, where you are in the world can affect the summer solstice date when the most sunlight is apparent, due to your time zone. However, most people will experience the summer solstice between the 20th and 22nd of June– and the 21st is by far the most common day for it to land on.

When Is the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere?

For those north of the equator, you can celebrate the Northern Hemisphere summer solstice, with the earliest sunrise, latest sunset, and is the shortest night of the year. 

The June solstice traditionally marks the beginning of summer for the Northern Hemisphere, and sunrise times do vary depending on your location– but you can generally expect to see it quite early!

When Is the Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere?

If you dwell south of the equator, then the solstice dates are the same but essentially reversed– the solstice in June ushers in the start of winter, while the December solstice signals summer.

This is still due to the uneven nature of the North and South Pole as they rotate, tilting the Earth and affecting the length of day during the course of the year.

Summer Solstice Celebrations

There are many people who still celebrate the solstices and even the dates of the spring and autumnal equinox, when the Sun is directly above the equator. While this time can certainly be used for religious or spiritual rituals, it’s also a great opportunity to soak in the Sun and enjoy the first day of summer.

For instance, neo-pagans or those who follow different pagan religions may feel comfortable reconnecting with their chosen patrons in potent summer solstice rituals, while others might pack a picnic and get ready to spend the day under the Sun’s rays.

Alternatively, you could do a yoga session in the early morning or head out to the garden to plant some flowers. Regardless of how you celebrate, channeling the thanksgiving of ancestors for the Sun and the Earth can be a great way to observe the occasion and have a happy summer solstice!

And for anyone curious about other calendar dates, you can keep up to date with Infoplease's holiday and events page.

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