We made it to the longest day of the year! Today is also called the summer Solstice or Midsummer. It officially began on Friday, June 21 at 1:04 a.m. EDT (so you were either going to bed, or you were asleep).
Ok, so what does the solstice mean then if it’s not during the day?
Astronomically, the solstice occurs at the precise moment when the Earth’s tilt towards the sun reaches its maximum.
On June 21, there are 24 hours of daylight north of the Arctic Circle (66.5° north of the equator) and 24 hours of darkness south of the Antarctic Circle (66.5° south of the equator). The sun’s rays are directly overhead along the Tropic of Cancer (the latitude line at 23.5° north, passing through Mexico, Saharan Africa, and India) on June 21.
But what it means to most of us is that it’s the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. Many people will flock to Stonehenge to experience sunrise on the solstice. Many communities will have feasts and dances. Check your local paper to find out what’s happening near you.
Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place on the Summer Solstice.
Midsummer was originally a pagan holiday. As with most pagan holidays, the Catholics created a new holiday around the same time to encourage people to celebrate a saint rather then the pagan worship. So in Christianity, it is associated with the nativity of John the Baptist, which is observed on the same day, June 24, in the Catholic, Orthodox and some Protestant churches. It is six months before Christmas because Luke 1:26 and Luke 1.36 imply that John the Baptist was born six months earlier than Jesus.
Quebecers know it as St. Jean Baptiste Day and they celebrate it June 24.
Lithuanians celebrate St. Jonas Festival (St. John’s Day) where those with the names Jonas, Jonė, Janina receive many greetings from their family, relatives and friends. The Lithuanian’s also throw quite a party with lots of singing and dancing until the sun sets, telling tales, searching to find the magic fern blossom at midnight, jumping over bonfires, greeting the rising midsummer sun and after washing their faces with a morning dew, young girls float flower wreaths on the water of river or lake.
Some people believed that golden-flowered mid-summer plants, especially Calendula, and St. John’s Wort, had miraculous healing powers and they therefore picked them on this night.
Bonfires are traditional on Midsummer. Originally, they were lit to protect against evil spirits which were believed to roam freely when the sun was turning southwards again. Couples would leap through the flames, believing their crops would grow as high as they were able to jump.
Sol + stice derives from a combination of Latin words meaning “sun” + “to stand still.”
The Druids’ celebrated Midsummer as the day of the “wedding of Heaven and Earth”, resulting in the present day belief of a “lucky” wedding in June.
Pagans called the Midsummer moon the “Honey Moon” because they drank quite a bit of mead which is made from fermented honey. Mead was part of wedding ceremonies. (So should we now call it the Champagne Moon?)