Summer is one of our favorite times of year because the days seem to stretch on forever, making it the perfect time to enjoy your backyard in natural daylight. That’s particularly true about Monday, June 20th, which is the summer solstice, or the longest day of the year. For many, this is the official start of summer.
A solstice is an “astronomical event caused by the Earth’s tilt on its axis and its motion in orbit around the sun.” The Earth’s tilt is 23.5 degrees, which means the Northern and Southern hemispheres receive different amounts of warmth and light during different parts of the year. During the June solstice, the North Pole is leaning most toward the sun and the sun is situated as far north as it gets during the year. This results in days longer than 12 hours for the northern hemisphere. However, sunsets get earlier and days get shorter from here on out.
After the summer solstice, the Earth continues to warm up, which leads to even warmer temperatures in July and August. This is known as a seasonal lag. As the sun melts the ice and warms the oceans, places north of the equator experience extremely hot weather throughout the rest of the summer.
In addition to astronomical and climate significance, the solstice is also historically and culturally important. The word solstice comes from the Latin ‘sol’ (sun) and ‘sister’ (to stand still). There are many traditions around the world tied to the summer solstice or midsummer.
- The summer solstice was the first day of the year in the ancient Greek calendar, and several festivals were held, including Kronia, which celebrated the agriculture god, Kronus.
- The ancient Romans celebrated the Vestalia festival leading up to the solstice. They made offerings to Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, home, and family.
- The ancient Chinese held a ceremony to honor the earth, femininity, and the force known as yin.
- Vikings met during midsummer to resolve disputes among the community, and they visited sites thought to have healing powers. Today tourists and residents in Iceland often celebrate the summer solstice in Viking fashion.
- The Sioux performed ceremonial sun dances, and the Bighorn medicine wheel built by the Plains Indians in Wyoming aligns with the solstice sunrise and sunset. Some Native American midsummer rituals are still practiced today.
- Many Mayan and Aztec temples are aligned with the shadows cast during certain astronomical events, like the solstices.
- Of course, Stonehenge is one of the most famous monuments that precisely follows the yearly progress of the sun. Thousands still gather there for the Summer Solstice Festival each year.
The summer solstice is a fascinating time of year. It is a day to be celebrated and enjoyed as we look ahead to the summer. Unfortunately, as the days get shorter in the next weeks and months, we’ll lose our precious evenings filled with natural light. So, we recommend that you enjoy your summer nights while they last, but then consider investing in yard lighting so you can still linger in the backyard even after the summer light fades! Contact Enlightened Lighting today to find out about our subtle ambient lighting for your backyard oasis.