Today’s a special day, dear friends: Summer Solstice. Now what exactly does that mean? Well, technically speaking, it’s the day on which the sun is in its highest position in the sky, giving us the longest day of the year – depending on where we are, the further north the longer; some of us, in the Arctic circle, can even witness a midnight sun! (This goes for the Northern hemisphere, of course; in the Southern hemisphere, Summer Solstice is in December. Sorry to my friends in Australia and elsewhere in the Southern hemisphere; you can read this post again in six months…)
In terms of historical significance, Summer Solstice has played a hugely important part in the calendar of many peoples. Together with its counterpart, Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, and the two equinoxes in between, on which day and night are of exactly equal length, it made up the all-important quarter days of the year – vital as markers for when to plant and harvest crops in order to feed the whole population.
Out of this necessity, a whole array of festivals and celebrations developed; in ancient Egypt, where Summer Solstice also marked the rise of the River Nile which was vitally important for the irrigation of the fields, sacrifices were made to the gods hoping for a good harvest.
And the Megalithic People, of course, who built those marvellous monuments in Western Europe and especially on the British Isles more than 5,000 years ago, held their legendary rituals at Stonehenge, Callanish and other stone circles which were aligned to the movements of the sun in the sky.
In ancient Greece, Summer Solstice was the first day of the new year, accompanied by the festival Kronia dedicated to Kronos, king of the Titans and ruler of time; it also marked the countdown to the Olympic Games which always started exactly one month later.
Later on, the Vikings celebrated Litha (meaning light) with bonfires in order to make the sun even stronger for a really good harvest; the Celts adopted the feast when the Germanic and the Celtic high festivals started merging into the Wheel of the Year.
But what does Summer Solstice mean to us today, and especially this year? Well, I’d say, dear friends, it means a great big ray of hope to all of us after this dreadful year of coronavirus, death, disease, fear and restrictions. We’re on the road to defeating this virus, and soon life will be back to halfway normal – and the long hours of sunshine in late June certainly give us a feeling of joy and optimism. Even though the usual pagan celebrations at Stonehenge and other ancient sites aren’t allowed yet – we can still dance around in the garden or the park or simply sunbathe and enjoy this lovely long evening.
Have a wonderful Summer Solstice, dear friends!