Summer solstice, also known as the estival solstice, occurs when one of Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt toward the Sun.

It marks that moment when the sun reaches that point when it is positioned farthest north — 23.5 degrees from the celestial equator. This point on the Earth is known as the Tropic of Cancer. The word solstice literally means “sun standing still.” It is derived from combining the Latin words sol for “sun” and sistere for “To Stand Still”.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice typically falls on June 20 or 21, while in the Southern Hemisphere, it occurs around December 21 or 22. While the summer solstice is the longest day of the year for that hemisphere, the dates of earliest sunrise and latest sunset vary by a few days. Earth’s elliptical orbit and varying orbital speed cause this variation.

The summer solstice marks the official start of astronomical summer and the longest day of the year.

Since prehistory, the summer solstice has been significant in many cultures, often marked by festivals and rituals, celebrated in diverse ways across the globe.

Saint John’s Eve, observed on the evening of June 23, celebrates the birth of Saint John the Baptist. Unlike most feast days that commemorate a saint’s death, this one marks his birth. According to the Gospel of Luke, John was born six months before Jesus, so the feast of John the Baptist falls on June 24, precisely six months before Christmas.

In the Roman calendar, June 24 coincided with the summer solstice, which adds to the significance of Saint John’s Eve. Across Europe, this occasion is associated with Midsummer festivities, featuring bonfires (often called St. John’s fires), feasting, processions, church services, and the gathering of wild plants.

In Alaska, in different locales, Summer Solstice is enjoyed in variant manners. In Fairbanks, baseball games are played under the midnight sun during the solstice. In Sweden, Midsommar, an official holiday, involves dancing around a maypole adorned with flowers and leaves. Revellers wear traditional costumes, play games, and enjoy pickled herring, boiled potatoes, salmon, and meats.

Magic and superstition abound, like walking barefoot in dew or collecting specific flowers to dream of future partners.

England, the home of most pagan festivals, very interesting events take place. At Stonehenge in Wiltshire, crowds gather to witness the sunrise during the solstice. Stonehenge’s ancient stones align with the sun’s position on this significant day. Golowan (sometimes also known as Goluan or Gol-Jowan) is the Cornish language term for the Midsummer celebrations in Cornwall, UK.

These festivities were widespread before the late 19th century and were particularly popular in the Penwith area, especially in Penzance and Newlyn. The core of the celebrations involved lighting bonfires, setting off fireworks, and performing associated rituals. The midsummer bonfire ceremonies, known as Tansys Golowan in Cornish, were revived in St Ives in 1929 by the Old Cornwall Society. Since then, they have spread to other societies across Cornwall, reaching places like Kit Hill near Callington. The Golowan festival in Penzance, which began in 1991, has revitalized many of these ancient customs. It has now evolved into a major arts and culture festival, with its central event, Mazey Day, attracting tens of thousands of people to the Penzance area in late June.

In Canada, too the celebrations take different forms. The Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival in Ottawa celebrates Indigenous culture, music, and art. It honours the sun’s power and its connection to life.

Iceland celebrates in a rich fashion. The Secret Solstice Festival in Reykjavik features music, art, and geothermal pools. Attendees enjoy 72 hours of continuous daylight during the solstice. Russia has its own brand of Summer Solstice festivities. White Nights in St. Petersburg occur around the solstice. The city experiences almost 24 hours of daylight, creating a magical atmosphere.

Austria marks interesting events. Tyrol hosts mountaintop bonfires during the solstice. Locals light fires to celebrate the sun’s peak and ward off evil spirits. In Croatia too Summer Solstice is celebrated with fervour. Astrofest in Istria combines stargazing, music, and cultural events. Participants celebrate the cosmic alignment during the solstice.

Jaanipäev, also known as leedopäev or Midsummer Day, holds a special place in the hearts of Estonians. It is a cherished public holiday and one of the most significant summer celebrations in the Estonian folk calendar. It corresponds to the English Midsummer Day. Estonians celebrate this festive occasion in varied ways. On the night before Jaanipäev, families and communities come together for joyful festivities.

They engage in singing, dancing, feasting, and lighting bonfires—a tradition that has endured for centuries. Thousands of bonfires are ignited across the country, symbolizing the power of nature and welcoming the arrival of summer. These fires are believed to bring good luck and prosperity. Jaanipäev occurs when nature is at its peak vitality, making it a time of great energy and celebration. Interestingly, Jaanipäev holds even more significance for Estonians than Christmas does. It’s a beautiful way to embrace the changing seasons and connect with traditions that have been passed down through generations.

Jāņi ([jɑːɲi]) is a vibrant Latvian festival that joyously celebrates the summer solstice. Although astronomically, the solstice occurs on the 21st or 22nd of June, the public holidays—Līgo Day and Jāņi Day—are observed on the 23rd and 24th of June. On Jāņi, people leave the city and head to the countryside.

There, they gather to eat, drink, sing, and partake in ancient folk customs associated with renewal and fertility. Saint Jonas’ Festival, also known as Rasos (Dew Holiday), Joninės, Kupolė, Midsummer Day, or Saint John’s Day, is a lively midsummer folk celebration observed on June 24th throughout Lithuania. Lithuanians engage in various customs, including: Singing songs and dancing until sunset; Telling tales and seeking the elusive magic fern blossom at midnight; Leaping over bonfires; Greeting the rising midsummer sun; Washing their faces with morning dew; Young girls floating flower wreaths on rivers or lakes. It has ancient roots. For thousands of years, the Balts (ancestors of Lithuanians) have celebrated the summer solstice (known as Rasa in Lithuanian). They offered sacrifices to pagan gods, and priestesses lit altar fires—a tradition that persists today, often performed by members of. There has also been Christian influence.

With the advent of Christianity in Lithuania, the celebration of Saint John’s Day (Joninės) merged with the existing Rasos festivities. Christians, Romuviai, and people of other beliefs come together to celebrate. Lithuanians named Jonas, Jonė, or Janina receive warm greetings from family and friends.

Tirgan is an ancient Iranian festival that occurs in early summer. It is celebrated annually on Tir 13 (which corresponds to July 2, 3, or 4). During Tirgan, people engage in various joyful activities, including: Splashing Water in which participants playfully splash water, symbolizing the importance of water for a healthy harvest and the victory over drought. Festive dances are a common part of Tirgan celebrations, bringing people together in joy and unity. Poetry holds a special place in Iranian culture, and during Tirgan, reciting poems adds to the festive atmosphere. People enjoy traditional dishes such as spinach soup and sholezard, a sweet saffron rice pudding. A delightful custom involves tying rainbow-colored bands on wrists.

These bands are worn for ten days and then thrown into a stream, symbolizing happiness and good fortune. Tirgan is still celebrated in various regions of Iran, including Mazandaran, Kerman, and Yazd provinces. It’s a beautiful way to honour ancient traditions and connect with the rich cultural heritage of Iran.

Xiàzhì is the 10th solar term, and marks the Summer Solstice in the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar dividing a year into 24 solar terms. It begins when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 90° and ends when it reaches the longitude of 105°.

The word xiazhi most often refers specifically to the day when the Sun is exactly at the celestial longitude of 90°. In the Gregorian calendar, this is around 21 June, and the Xiazhi period ends with the beginning of the next solar term Xiaoshu, around 7 July. Xiazhi is considered the middle of the summer and the beginning of the hottest part of summer. Although it was once celebrated with traditional customs, these customs have mostly died out, and Xiazhi is not observed much anymore.

The Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Parade had its origins as a birthday celebration in 1974. Michael Gonzalez, a Santa Barbara resident and a mime artist, created this vibrant parade. Over the years, it has grown into the largest single-day event in Santa Barbara County, drawing crowds of 100.000 people or more. Prior to the parade day, a workshop opens where artists and technicians collaborate with the community to generate ideas, construct floats, design costumes, and prepare performances. It’s a lively celebration that brings together creativity, artistry, and community spirit.

It’s heartwarming to see how this festival brings communities together to honour nature and embrace the changing seasons.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

S. M. Hali

The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF, and now a security analyst

Comments

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Dr Abdul Majeed Jun 23, 2024 12:50pm
Would like to read these articles from a scientist's perspective. Not from someone's second hand knowledge. Stick to your domain captain.
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