Per chance you did not know that June 21, 2011 is the start of summer. Often called the summer solstice in many parts of the world, here in the U.S., we generally just call it the “longest day” of the year. Of course, all days are 24 hours, but longest refers to the longest day of sunlight for the year. The sun reaches its most northern point at noon. After this date, the days get “shorter”.
From trazzler: Like Halloween, New Year’s Eve, and Carnival, the summer solstice was–and in many parts of the world still is–a time of transgression. Midsummer represents a threshold–a time when the long days blur the transition to night, allowing a brief respite from the daily grind that keeps most of us in check. In many parts of Europe, Christians bumped the celebrations to June 24th, incorporating pyromania and pagan traditions into the St. John’s Eve festivities.
Legends describe the solstice as a time when the doors to enchanted castles and the underworld were cast open and mortals could mingle with fairies and imprisoned princesses and explore hidden caverns. Shakespeare set his silly and brilliant comedy on this night, depicting the collision of three very different worlds in a magic forest where fairies work romantic mischief on sleeping couples, while bad actors rehearse a Roman play about doomed lovers.
The youth of today may not pause to think that they are re-enacting ancient Midsummer’s celebrations or mating rituals when they get debaucherous at the many music festivals that kick off around the solstice, but the primal desire to be outside dancing and carousing late into the night is irrepressible at this time of year.
In the northern hemisphere, the Summer Solstice begins at precisely 10:16am on June 21, 2011. The word solstice comes from a combination of Latin words sol=sun, and stice=to stand still. As the days get “longer”, the sun rises higher and higher until it seems to stand still in the sky.
Does it stand to reason that if today is the “longest” day, then tonight will be the “shortest” night? Those of you in the southern hemisphere would celebrate this day in December. Regardless, various civilizations celebrate this day, also known as Midsummer, St. John’s, or the Wiccan Litha. But perhaps the biggest celebration is held at Stonehenge, where thousands gather to celebrate the arrival of the sun. Various cultures around the world mark the Summer Soltice is various ways, often with pagan festivals, spirit gatherings, and rituals.
Perhaps the most famous of these winter celebrations is Christmas, the day the sun returns to the northern hemisphere. Other celebrations are Yalda, Saturnalia, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus (Seinfeld), and Yule. Christian cultures celebrate the Summer Soltice with the feast of St. John, while Neopagans celebrate Midsummer.
For you hard-core rock and roll fans, the Solstice marks the beginning of a long season of outdoor music festivals. The greatest of these might be Glastonbury, the world’s largest open air music fest, held at Worthy Farm in Pilton, England. This year’s headliners are Beyonce, U2, Paul Simon, and Coldplay. Bonfires and feasts are common, with emphasis on libations and cured meats.
Pliny apparently used the word solstice back in the first century BC in “Natural History.” On the Equator, the sun is not overheard every day as many people think. In fact, the sun is overhead only two days a year, the equinoxes. The center of the sun is in the same plane as the Equator. For you hard-core pessimists, it is the longest work day of the year. For those of you on summer hiatus, it is the longest day of fun, meaning sex, drugs, rock and roll.
Many cities and towns around the country celebrate the Summer Soltice. For the nearest celebrations, you may have to settle for the Alameda County Fair, the Sonoma Marin Fair, Placer County Fair, Sugar Plum Arts and Crafts Festival, Lompoc Flower Festival, Temecula Street Painting Festival, Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Celebration, and the Monterey Bay Blues Festival.
Or, keep it simple like me. A round of golf with some buddies, a haircut from Liz the Whiz, and some cold champagne on one of the warmest days of the year.