Summer Solstice, 2003 (pastel on paper), Valerie Conway (1923-2011) / Private Collection

Happy First Day of Summer! Celebrate This Year’s Summer Solstice

“If I had to choose a religion, the sun as the universal giver of life would be my god” Napoleon Bonaparte

 

Today marks the Northern Hemisphere’s Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year.

What is the Summer Solstice?

‘Solstice’ comes from the Latin, ‘solstitium’ which means the stopping or standing still of the sun.  The summer solstice occurs when the sun is at its furthest distance from the equator. The tilt of Earth’s axis is most inclined towards the sun and is directly above the Tropic of Cancer.

Orbit of the Annual Revolution of the Earth around the Sun with the indication of the Seasons (No. 2), from Tableaux du Systeme Planetaire, pub. Paris, 1839 (stipple engraving), Sigismond Visconti (fl.1839) (after) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection
Orbit of the Annual Revolution of the Earth around the Sun with the indication of the Seasons (No. 2), from Tableaux du Systeme Planetaire, pub. Paris, 1839 (stipple engraving), Sigismond Visconti (fl.1839) (after) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection

Because of this, we’ll enjoy a whole 16 hours and 38 minutes of daylight today in the UK.  However, whilst we are making the most of this month’s heatwave, it now means that from tomorrow, the days will steadily become shorter in the lead up to winter.  The shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, is on 21st December.  The dates are reversed for the Southern Hemisphere (today marks their shortest day of the year).

 

Celebrations

The summer solstice is celebrated worldwide with a number of festivals, feasts and rituals across religions.  The solstice is associated with fertility, growth and light.

Procession on the Summer Solstice (w/c), Simon Palmer (b.1956) / Private Collection
Procession on the Summer Solstice (w/c), Simon Palmer (b.1956) / Private Collection

Whilst the day is celebrated across the Northern Hemisphere irrespective of faith, celebrating the summer solstice aka midsummer is particularly important for Pagans.  For them it’s a day that is considered sacred as they celebrate the fullness of the year.  It is used as a marker for planting and harvesting crops and it marked the union of the pagan god and goddess, which was believed to create the harvest’s fruits.

Summer Solstice, 2003 (pastel on paper), Valerie Conway (1923-2011) / Private Collection
Summer Solstice, 2003 (pastel on paper), Valerie Conway (1923-2011) / Private Collection

Stonehenge

Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument has been a place of worship and celebration at the time of summer solstice for thousands of years and is seen by many as a sacred site.  Today, thousands of pagans, hippies, and tourists will head to Stonehenge to watch the sun rise.

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, 1820 (drawing), John Constable (1776-1837) / Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK
Stonehenge, Wiltshire, 1820 (drawing), John Constable (1776-1837) / Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK

The ring of standing stones was built in three phases between 3000 B.C and 1600 B.C and famously aligned to the solstices. The rising sun reaches the middle of the stones only one day of the year, where it shines on the central altar.  The exact purpose of the stones remains a mystery, however it’s generally assumed to be a prehistoric temple built to mark the movements of the sun.

Druid service at Stonehenge, c.1909-20 (b/w photo), English Photographer, (20th century) / Sean Sexton Collection
Druid service at Stonehenge, c.1909-20 (b/w photo), English Photographer, (20th century) / Sean Sexton Collection

 

Find out more

Here comes the sun: famous paintings of summer

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