The summer solstice is coming up on June 20 at 8:32 PM PDT. The summer solstice is when the Earth’s tilt toward the sun reaches its maximum at 23.44 degrees, the sun is at its highest position in the sky, and is the day with the longest period of daylight. For Everett, the time between sunrise and sunset reaches its peak at 16 hours, 2 minutes and 34 seconds. And within the Arctic Circle, there is continuous daylight around the summer solstice. Solstice is derived from the Latin words sol (Sun) and sistere or to stand still.
The summer solstice also marks the beginning of what is called astronomical summer or more commonly referenced as the start of the summer season. After June 20th, the days will slowly start to get shorter – a matter of seconds early on, but turn into a few minutes by August and peak around three and half minutes shorter days by late September as the calendar heads to the winter solstice in December.
Going back through human history, many have observed the summer solstice with celebrations and rituals. Ancient European pagans welcomed the solstice with bonfires, noting that bonfires would boost the sun’s energy for the remainder of the growing season and produce a good fall harvest. Bonfires were also associated with magic, thought to be strongest during the solstice. Many believed bonfires could help banish evil spirits and lead maidens to future husbands. Some wore protective garlands of herbs and flowers including the most powerful – St. John’s Wort given its association with St. John’s Day – commemorating the birth of John the Baptist.
Ancient Greeks marked the solstice as the start of the New Year. In addition, the summer solstice initiated the one-month countdown to the opening of the Olympic Games. Ancient Romans celebrated Vestalia, a religious festival in honor of Vesta – the goddess of the hearth. During this festival, married women could enter the temple of Vesta and leave offerings to the goddess in exchange for family blessings.
For the Vikings, the date was a critical time of year to meet and discuss legal matters and resolve disputes. Many Native Americans participated in solstice rituals still practiced today. For example, The Sioux perform a ceremonial sun dance while wearing symbolic colors. In Wyoming, the Bighorn Medicine Wheel was thought to be that culture’s annual sun dance around an arrangement of stones hundreds of years old that align with the summer solstice sunrise and sunset.
Stonehenge in the south of England is aligned with the direction of sunrise on the summer solstice – one of many theories about the purpose of this megalith monument. Thousands gather each year to commemorate the longest day of the year. In Egypt, the sun sets sparely between the Great Pyramids of Khufu and Khafre from the view of the Sphinx.
Today, many still celebrate the summer solstice. Parades and festivals are most common. In Northern Europe, bonfires are lit, homes are decorated with garlands and other greenery, and girls wear flowers in their hair. In parts of Scandinavia, people dance around Maypoles as part of summer solstice celebrations.
Come June 20th at 8:32 PM PDT, we can all celebrate the start of summer. The summer weather outlook offers a good chance of warmer and drier conditions into September – something many can also celebrate following a tough year.