The moment that those of us who slogged through record amounts of snow, ice, slush and then spring rain over the past several months have been waiting for is here: It’s time to drink in the sun of summer.
On June 21 at 12:38 p.m., just as we’re raising our glasses to Dad for Father’s Day brunch, the summer solstice arrives. That is the very moment that the sun reaches its most northern point in our skies, essentially stopping (the Latin meaning of “solstitium,” the word from which “solstice” is derived, according to Timeanddate.com) for an instant.
“The point on the horizon where the sun appears to rise and set, stops and reverses direction after this day,” says Timeanddate.com. “On the solstice, the sun does not rise precisely in the east, but rises to the north of east and sets to the north of west, meaning it's visible in the sky for a longer period of time.”
It is, of course the start of winter in the Southern Hemisphere as well as summer in the Northern.
“For us in the Northern Hemisphere, this solstice marks the longest day of the year,” Earthsky.org points out. “Early dawns. Long days. Late sunsets. Short nights. The sun at its height each day, as it crosses the sky. Meanwhile, south of the equator, winter begins.”
Daylight lasts longer than 12 hours today north of the Equator, making it the longest day of the year. On this day, too, we cast our shortest shadows of the year at noon, Earthsky.org points out.
Indigenous Peoples began celebrating at dawn with ceremony, as the sun peeked over the horizon and shown through carefully crafted sculptures that let in those first golden rays of summer.
The ancients may or may not have known that the solstices and equinoxes are caused by Mother Earth’s 23.5-degree axis tilt in relation to the sun. In other words, our planet is not upright, so the hemispheres “trade places in receiving the sun’s light and warmth most directly,” Earthsky.org explains.
Regardless, the changes in seasons unite us all, signaling as they do the time for planting, harvesting and otherwise reveling in the web of life that we are all part of.
Earth's orientation to the sun at the summer solstice.