This is my favorite time of year. This week marks the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere — defined by the Encyclopaedia Britannica as “the moment during the year when the path of the sun in the sky is farthest north in the Northern Hemisphere (June 20 or 21).”
In practical terms, this means it is offically summertime, and the solstice is the longest day of the year. This is because the sun will shine directly over the Tropic of Cancer while the North Pole reaches its maximum tilt toward the sun. The farther north a person goes, the more daylight they can expect to have. The North Pole will have 24-hours of daylight, known as “the midnight sun.”
Today in Bryan County, the sun will rise at 6:19 a.m. and set at 8:34 p.m., but in London, England, it will rise earlier at 4:43 a.m. and set later at 9:22 p.m. since we are significantly nearer the equator here in Georgia than back in the land of my birth.
One summer solstice tradition in England, spurred by the media, is the nationwide grumbling about the chaos created by the various annual events that take place at Stonehenge in Southcentral England.
This striking place is probably the world’s most famous ancient prehistoric site, with giant stones and believed to be a place of worship and celebration dating back thousands of years. The giant stones are believed to have stood in the same spot since 3,000 to 2,000 BC and are positioned to align with the sunrise on the two annual solstices, summer and winter.
There is an aura of mystery surrounding this ancient monument, especially since (according to www.livescience.com) the huge stones, some as tall as 30 feet and weighing 25 tons, were quarried and moved from more than 100 miles away.
The reason for the grumbling and massive police presence at Stonehenge at this time of year is that many thousands of people converge to both participate and to witness the solstice ceremony undertaken by pagan sun-worshippers.
The white cloaked and hooded druids, who were priests, magicians and the high-ranking elite of the ancient Celtic cultures, stand among the stones to welcome the first rays of the sunlight (which can often be a lackluster sight if the British weather is grey and rainy as it so often is). Today, people dress up, dance, chant, eat, drink, play and pray.
The summer solstice is often the time of the first harvest, and it is believed that pagans celebrated this time of year and worshiped the sun with many different rituals generally involving feasting, drinking and dancing. Some pagan traditions commemorating midsummer and the summer solstice include:
• Women wearing flowers on their hair, wrists and ankles and men wearing oak leaves and flowers around their heads.
• On midsummer’s eve, pagans lit sacred fires, sprinkled nine different types of herbs on it, leaped through the edge of the bonfire flames and then stayed up all night to welcome the dawn.
• Celebrating midsummer and fertility through a “honey moon,” which also included drinking mead made from fermented honey.
• One of the most enduring rituals of the summer solstice is that the Druids’ celebrated of the “wedding of heaven and earth,” which it is believed has led to a more modern tradition of a “lucky” wedding in June.
Many of these traditions will still be enacted this week at Stonehenge and other sacred Druid places, hence the media circus. For more information visit www.thoughtco.com.
I kick off summer this year with an evocative quote from Harper Lee’s timeless classic “To Kill a Mockingbird:” “Summer was on the way … Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots or trying to sleep in the tree house; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape …”