“Thy eternal summer shall not fade.”
“Sonnet XVIII” by William Shakespeare
So what is a solstice, exactly?
The word solstice comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and stitium (still or stopped) to indicate that the Sun appears to stop moving in the sky as it reaches the most northern or southern point for the year.1
Is the summer solstice the first day of summer?
Yes and no. In the Northern Hemisphere, the June or summer solstice occurs when the Sun reaches its highest point in the sky, marking the start of astrological summer. Meteorological summer starts on June 1, but you can follow whichever interpretation of the season beginning you like best!
When does it happen?
In 2021, the June solstice happens on Sunday, June 20, at 10:32 P.M. CST. (Also Father’s Day!) The solstice won’t always happen on the same day though. The date and time depends on when the Sun reaches its highest point in the sky. In the Northern Hemisphere, the date currently shifts between June 20, 21, and 22.1
Is the solstice the longest day of the year?
Yes! As spring ends and summer begins, the period of sunlight each day lengthens to the longest on the solstice, but only in the Northern Hemisphere. South of the equator, it’s the shortest daylight hours of the year and they are about to enter winter.
The further north or south from the equator that you go, the more dramatic the amount of daylight. Right near the equator, there are only a few additional or less minutes of daylight; near the poles, there are almost 24 hours of sunlight or darkness.
Why isn’t the summer solstice also the hottest day?
The water on Earth takes a while to warm up after a long winter. Even in mid-June, ice and snow still cover the ground in some places. The sun has to melt the ice and warm the oceans, then we feel the summer heat in late July or August, depending on location above or below the equator. This delayed effect is called seasonal temperature lag. It’s the same reason it’s hotter mid-afternoon than at high noon and it’s often colder in February than in December.1
Summer Solstice = Midsummer’s Day?
Many countries celebrate a solstice holiday known as Midsummer’s Day on June 24. This day marks the midpoint of the growing season. The evening prior is Midsummer’s Eve. Now we know what day the famous Shakespeare play occurred!
So what’s with the bonfires?
Fire is used throughout summer solstice celebrations across the globe in praise of the sun, to bring luck, and to ward off the darkness or evil spirits who roam freely after the sun sets. Some cultures burn idols or figures of witches made of straw and cloth on the fires, as it is believed that witches gather on the night of the solstice and burning figures will send the witches away.
Bonfires and jumping over bonfire flames are popular in many countries across the world. In Spain and Austria, ritual beacons are lit up in the mountains.2
How can I celebrate?
I’m sure many people know of the Swedish tradition of dancing around a maypole, but here are some simple ways you can welcome the summer solstice:
- Go strawberry picking or enjoy a big bowl of strawberries and cream on the solstice. June’s full moon is also known as the Strawberry Moon and it typically coincides with the ripening of strawberries in the United States.1 Near La Porte, Garwood Orchard and Farm Market and Rosey’s Berry Farm have pick-your-own strawberries!
- Keep a fire burning. You can create a bonfire like many cultures around the world or light some candles to chase away the darkness. Discover tips for safe bonfires.
- Watch the sunrise. Every year, up to 10,000 people including new-age druids gather on the solstice at Stonehenge in England for a festival and to see the sun rise in alignment above the Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone.3 A similar phenomenon happens between buildings in Chicago in the autumn and spring!
- Break out the yoga mat. In Times Square, N.Y.C. and in India, the solstice is celebrated with mass yoga sessions. The International Day of Yoga is June 21, often the same day as the solstice4. The library offers many resources in this area.
- Don a crown of flowers. Latvia and Sweden tend to wear floral wreaths during their solstice celebrations. This felt flower headband is a perfect craft for kids this summer.
- Eat some noodles. In China, cold noodle dishes are typically eaten during this period to “reduce stomach heat” and easily whet the appetite.5 Try the Cold Sesame Noodles from “The Chinese Takeout Cookbook” by Diana Kuan.