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Globe Monument on Norwegian island, Mageroya

8 fascinating facts about the summer solstice

Image: The Globe Monument in Mageroya, Norway |

Since the beginning of time, the Sun has played a vital role in our survival as a species. From providing the light needed to grow the crops we eat to the warmth and vitamin D needed to survive, it’s no wonder that the Sun has fascinated human civilisation since prehistory.

Tracking the Sun’s progress through the skies is a human habit that has taken on multiple meanings over time. From marking the changing of the seasons to dictating when we should plant our crops, and right down to keeping the hours in the day, human civilisation has built itself around the passage of the Sun. But it’s not just practical applications that have fuelled our obsession with the star - it has also played a great significance in spiritual and religious development too.

Observations and celebrations of the Sun can be found in cultures worldwide throughout history, with many of them revolving around the Sun’s passage throughout our skies. Perhaps one of the most unilaterally celebrated phases of the Sun is the summer solstice.

Celebrated on 21st June in the Northern Hemisphere and 21st December in the Southern Hemisphere, the summer solstice is the longest day on Earth. Thanks to the tilt of the Earth’s axis, it’s when the north or south of the Earth is at its closest point to the Sun. Marked by long days, short nights, and warmer weather, humans have observed the summer solstice since the Neolithic period. But what is it about this bi-annual astrological event that has captured the imaginations of humans throughout history?

Here are eight interesting facts about the summer solstice that show it’s so much more than just a phase.

1. It arrives like clockwork

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the summer solstice happens at different times depending on where you are in the hemisphere, but the truth is that it happens at the same moment for everyone. Thanks to time zones across the globe, we might be at different parts of our respective days, but whether you’re in Europe, America, or the Artic Circle, the Solstice will happen at the same instant for all of us.

2. Time stands still

The root origin of the word solstice comes from the Latin words for sun and standstill because the Sun appears to stand still at its highest (or lowest, in the winter solstice) apex in the sky.

3. It’s not the earliest sunrise of the year

Although the summer solstice is the longest day, it doesn’t have the earliest or latest sunset. Depending on your latitude, the earliest sunrise will happen sometime around mid-June, and the latest sunset will occur towards the end of the month.

4. It’s been observed throughout human history

Evidence of the observation of the Sun’s trajectory can be seen in ancient cultures around the globe and throughout all human history. Petroglyphs and cave paintings dating back to 36,000 BC show that early man understood the Sun’s passage through the skies.

The earliest evidence of human understanding of the solstice can be found at the Nabta Playa in the Nubian desert in Egypt. Dating back at least 6,000 years, the collection of stones lines up with the Sun’s trajectory each year. At the moment of the equinox, the stones are directly under the Sun’s apex, meaning that the stones don’t cast a shadow.

5. Flooding the Nile

It wasn’t just the passage of the Sun that was important about the summer solstice in Ancient Egypt. The solstice coincided with the rising of the Nile each year and was heralded as an essential time of agriculture for the ancient civilisation.

Only 3% of the Egyptian landscape was suitable farming land, meaning that all life in the ancient civilisation was dependent on the ebb and flow of the Nile. The rising of the water each year brought with it highly fertile silt that refreshed the farmlands and ensured that each new year got a bountiful harvest.

6. Greek feasts

The ancient Greeks observed their midsummer celebrations with the festival of Kronia, a feast dedicated to the god Kronos.

It was believed that, in the time when Kronos ruled the earth, human civilisation was living in a golden age. Life was supported by the gods, meaning that man didn’t need to toil or labour in the fields to ensure a good harvest each year. Since no labour was required, man could live harmoniously without the need for work or slavery.

The ancient Greeks would remember this golden age by feasting together as equals. Slaves were free from their duties to enjoy the festivities and participated in the event's activities as peers and not subordinates. Rich and poor alike came together to enjoy games, drink, and celebrate the year's first harvest.

7. Ancient Roman celebration of home and hearth

For the ancient Romans, midsummer was celebrated with the festival of Vestalia in honour of Vesta, the goddess of domesticity and home life. The event was primarily celebrated by women and was a time when the inner sanctum of the temple of Vesta was opened to the public.

Women would make offerings throughout the festival in exchange for blessings for themselves and their families. On the final day of the celebration, the temple would be closed, swept, and scrubbed from top to bottom as an act of purification.

8. It’s still celebrated around the world today

Today the summer solstice is still celebrated each year with a range of varied and rich midsummer traditions and practices. In the UK, the Stonehenge site is opened to the public to witness the sun’s alignment with the ancient monolith, while in Norway, an enormous bonfire is built. Reaching heights of over 40m, the bonfire has set the world record as the tallest bonfire in the world.