So, you wonder about summer solstice meaning and significance…
Here are 10 mind-blowing facts to help you get the most out of this seasonal holiday. I end the post with wellness tips and tricks to get the most out of the healing power of mid-summer, so be sure to check them out!
Summer Solstice Meaning
Some version of the word summer have been used to describe this warm season for about 4,000 years. It derives originally from the sanskrit word sama, where it then evolved over time into the old English sumur which now gives us summer!
Solstice is a fun word deriving from Latin and literally translates into ‘sun standing still’.
The sun actually holds its place in the sky each solstice, winter and summer, for about three days before shifting directions and heralding in the next season.
Summer is the warmest season of the year in the northern hemisphere. It occurs from late-June through late-September.
Solstice is a time when the sun reaches its extreme position, north or south, on the horizon. It’s pause at that point and turn toward the preceding direction indicates the change of season at the beginning of summer and winter.
The summer solstice is the point where the sun reaches its most northern point on the horizon and begins its slow turn southward toward the autumnal equinox. It is the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.
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10 Mind-Blowing Facts About the Summer Solstice
Humans have been celebrating the summer solstice and the longest day of the year for millennia. Here are 10 mind-blowing facts that will help you have a deeper understanding and appreciation for this seasonal holiday.
1 – The date of the summer solstice changes over time.
The date of the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere can fall anytime between June 20-22.
This happens for a variety of reasons.
The date and time may be different in your area as a simple function of time zone changes.
The date change from year-to-year also occurs because the modern Gregorian calendar has 365 days (366 in a leap year) and the sun actually takes 365.24 days to orbit the sun.
You can countdown to the summer solstice in your region at this fun link.
2 – It’s the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere.
We have seasons because the earth is tilted on its axis. As the earth makes its way around the sun, the shadow side of the earth shifts from north to south and the sun appears to move across the horizon north to south.
When the northern hemisphere experiences its summer and longest days, the southern hemisphere is in the opposite relationship to the sun and has shorter days and the winter solstice.
See the gif below to help wrap your head around this concept.
3 – The earth is the farthest from the sun during the summer.
It is true! The earth is farthest from the sun in the summer months (northern hemisphere). The orbit of the earth around the sun is almost an exact circle, but not quite. During the summer months, usually July, the earth is farthest from the sun as it moves along this elliptical path.
This phenomenon is called aphelion – literally translating as farthest from the sun. We’re about 3 million miles further away from the sun, generally speaking, in July than we will be in January.
Funny thing is, this has nothing to do with the seasons or temperatures. That, my friend, has everything to do with that tilted axis we talked about earlier.
If the earth were not tilted on its axis, we would not have seasons and the sun’s position in the daytime sky would remain constant all year long.
Here is another visual explanation of the season, a little more defined:
4 – At the summer solstice, the sun is at the Tropic of Cancer. What does that mean?
We measure the earth north and south, in relation to the equator using a measurement called latitude. When the sun is directly overhead at noon in summer, it is at the Tropic of Cancer.
In the southern hemisphere at the time of the June solstice, the sun is at the Tropic of Capricorn. This is the latitude where the sun is directly overhead at noon on the shortest day of the year.
Here’s yet another image to help you wrap your head around the astronomy and geogrpahy of the summer solstice.
5 – The hottest weather of the year comes after the summer solstice.
The hottest temperatures recorded each summer come after the summer solstice, usually in July. The technical term for this phenomenon is called the lag of seasons.
The fact underlying the phenomenon is quite simple. While the sun is high and warm, the oceans and mountain tops still hold winter’s cold. As summer’s long days warm oceans and melt mountain top snows, temperatures rise and we enjoy summer’s sultry weather.
6 – The summer solstice is often referred to as mid-summer.
In older, agriculture-based cultures, May Day was seen as the first day of summer. the first week of May rests directly in the middle between the spring equinox and summer solstice. The end of summer is referred to as Lughnasadh (Celtic, meaning the first harvest) in such cultures and is the first week of August.
The summer solstice is simply the middle point between these seasonal holidays, and so we have mid-summer!
7 – Fire is the symbol of the summer solstice.
The Summer solstice is traditionally a fire festival. It is marked by celebrations centered around bonfires in cultures from North Africa to Scandinavia. These celebrations bring to my mind the American BBQ, backyard picnics centered around the grill.
It is not hard to see why fire is the symbol of the summer solstice as we are rejoicing in the heat and glory of the sun.
Other symbols associated with the summer solstice include:
- St. John the Baptist – Catholics celebrate the summer solstice by remembering this holy man.
- Celtic peoples used the oak leaf to symbolize the summer solstice as it is the time of full greening of this mighty tree.
- In China, the summer solstice is celebrated as the Dragon Boat Festival. It’s a complicated holiday based on the belief that this is an unlucky time of year. Ceremonies center around acts that fight off misfortune.
- Stonehenge – modern Druid (Celtic Shamen) gather at this stone circle in Salisbury, UK. Stonehenge is a symbolic structure for the summer solstice.
8 – Stonehenge isn’t the only ancient solstice gathering place.
Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming is an 80 foot in diameter wheel made with stones. It is separated by 28 spokes, also made of stone. The entire design is punctuated with 6 stone cairns ( designed piles of rocks).
When you sit in the cairns, you are looking toward various astronomical events, like where the sun rises on the morning of the summer solstice. These cairns also mark the rise of certain stars.
This 7,000-year-old sacred site in North America is the gathering place for native peoples at the summer solstice and other astronomically significant times of the year.
9 – The Arctic Circle enjoys 24 hours of daylight at the time of the summer solstice.
So, to talk about the arctic circle, we’re back to exploring latitudes. The arctic circle is defined by the latitude where the sun does not set on the summer solstice. The latitude is 66.4 degrees north.
The phenomenon is called the midnight sun. It’s opposite, endless darkness at the time of the winter solstice is called the polar night.
Enjoy this time lapse video of the midnight sun.
10 – Other planets have solstice events, too!
Any planet that has a tilted axis like the earth has solstice events.
- On Venus, summer solstice is in early April and summer concludes the end of May.
- The summer solstice on Mars this year will be October 8. Summer will end on Mars on April 8.
- The summer on Uranus lasts 21 years.
- Neptune has a summer season that lasts 41 years.
One day and so much to learn!
The summer solstice is a remarkable fact of nature! When observed, it can help us understand all of the seasons, earth’s place in the solar system, and how it is like all the other planets in the solar system.
Most importantly, seasonal holidays like the summer solstice help us enjoy our innate connection to this beautiful planet. The impulse to celebrate the longest day of the year is ancient and ancestral. So, go ahead! Throw that backyard BBQ this June, knowing in some way you make a nod to grandparents past, and their midsummer bonfires!
Read on for ways to capture the healing energies of the season. Create a summer solstice wellness practice that celebrates life’s fullness and restores your energy for the seasons ahead.
Summer Solstice Wellness Practices
Summer is an interesting mix of high activity and a call to relax. We want to be outdoors every sunny moment possible. Often times, though, this time outside can be relaxing with a book, music, or just hanging out in a hammock. I hope you enjoy these recommended wellness practices for the time of the summer solstice.
Take up a sun salutation yoga practice for the summer solstice.
Walk on grass in your bare feet this summer!
This practice, called grounding or earthing, is scientifically proven to be beneficial to the body. The earth’s natural negative charge is able to neutralize your body’s natural positive change when the feet are in contact with grass. The benefit in this energy exchange is the clearing of illness-causing free radicals from the body.
This practice has also been proved to restore the body’s circadian rhythm, the cycles of sleep and rest. It helps restore good sleeping habits.
Give it a try! You are always welcome to walk my pasture trail barefoot if you are in the area. I do it almost every fair-weather day! Join me…
Make earth mandalas.
This is a new and growing practice of mine. You simply collect natural items like sticks, stones, flowers, and such. Then in a meditative frame of mind, arrange them in a circular pattern. I do this at each change of season, and during the cross-quarter days on May Day, Lughnasadh, Halloween, and Groundhog Day.
I also mark other astronomical events with this practice. Here’s my end of summer earth mandala from last year.
Further reading about the meaning of the summer solstice.
Time and Date: a more technical explanation of the summer solstice for the geeky among us!
Earth Sky: more about the aphelion and perihelion phases of the earth’s journey around the sun.
Earth Sky: the hottest weather isn’t on the longest day
Planetary Society and its calendar of seasonal events on Mars.
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