Today is the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and I found a little information about the earliest recognition of this event. Our ancestors were very observant about the sky and their immediate surroundings. They studied the formations, planted and harvested by the moon phases, and looked for any reason to throw a party – or so it would seem. After all, they didn’t have wide screen televisions, hand held computer games, or wi-fi.
The summer solstice marks the longest day of sunlight in the entire year – over fourteen hours. Which makes me wonder why it isn’t the hottest day of the year as well. But, apparently the earth begins to lose moisture and retain warmth as the days of summer wear on, and we build up heat a little like an oven. That is my less than scientific take on atmospheric conditions.
The word ‘solstice’ is a latin combination of the word for sun ‘sol’ and to stand still ‘stice’. As the sun rises higher and higher in the sky, it appears to just stand still.
This is another of those scientific quandries that never ceases to amaze me. Why does the sun look further away in summer and closer to earth in winter? Since you are probably still reeling from my ‘oven’ description, I’ll save this one for another day.
The ancients honored this day with a lot of dancing and bonfires and the Druids celebrated it as a wedding of heaven and earth. This may have been the forerunner of lucky June weddings.
And the honey wine that they made – called meade – was the drink of the celebration. So they referred to the new moon at this solstice as the ‘honey moon’.
But why the bonfires for the summer solstice? Don’t we normally associate bonfires with winter activities? Seems like they were very superstitious and believed that as the sun began its descent back toward shorter days, the spirits of the mischievous gods could walk among the humans unless they confused them by keeping lots of light on earth.
Many believe that the construction of Stonehenge may have been to harness the energy from this event and celebrations are still held there on this day.
Perhaps the celebrations, fueled with lots of meade, better explain Stonehenge. Gather a bunch of cavemen, get them drinking, and they’ll do anything on a dare. I bet they were attempting to build an ancient forerunner to dominoes and sobered up or ran out of large boulders, before they snaked it around Europe.
Also called, Midsummer, its rituals bewitched Shakespeare and many other authors over the years. It was the time for fertility and growth and tree planting is still common among some cultures.
However you choose to celebrate today, by planting, dancing, or partying by bonfire, get outside and enjoy this extra long day of summer!