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Joaqlin Estus

Indian Country Today

Alaskans may be the most enthusiastic U.S. fans of the summer solstice. The longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere is exceptionally long in Alaska.

In the northern reaches of the state, the sun doesn’t set at all for several days. Fairbanks gets just shy of 22 hours of daylight on the solstice, and the sun is above the horizon in Anchorage for 19 hours and 21 minutes.

Add to that another few hours of “civil twilight.” That’s when the sun has dipped below the horizon but there’s still enough light to do things outside.

The summer solstice usually falls between June 20 and 22. This year it falls on the 20th, Saturday. The solstice marks the day Earth’s Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun to its maximum extent.

Solstice celebrations usually occur around the state, but this year many are canceled because of the coronavirus.

Tanna Carter, Athabascan, is originally from Minto, a village about 125 miles northwest of Fairbanks. She said normally “a lot of people from my village come to Fairbanks just to participate in all of the activities that would have been happening this weekend for the solstice.” Those events are now called off.

“It's a very big part of what Fairbanks does in the summer. It's part of everybody's summer,” Carter said. For last year’s solstice, organizers predicted more than 30,000 people would join in the Midnight Sun Festival in Fairbanks. 

In festivals in years past, a lot of activities started late, emphasizing the length of the days. The Midnight Sun Baseball Game started at 10:30 p.m. and was played with no artificial lights. The event that drew the biggest crowds, the Midnight Sun Run, began at 10 p.m. and ended well after midnight.

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Carter said, “the Sun Run is the one, I was really sad to see that one not happen. Cause that's a lot of fun, and there's so many people that enter the race and people that watch the race.” In addition to serious runners, she said people wore costumes and pushed baby strollers or walked with their children.

Earlier in the day the Fairbanks festival would have a parade. Last year it featured more than 20 bands and live acts, carnival rides, and 200 food and arts and crafts booths.

Anchorage's Downtown Summer Solstice Festival had many of the same features — live music, food, and vendors. Last year the city roped off eight downtown blocks where there were also a petting zoo, a deadlift competition, and a three-on-three basketball tournament as well as skateboarding and other demonstrations. There were special sun salutation yoga classes on the lawn in front of the Anchorage museum.

Some activities will still take place this weekend. Aside from the organized events, the summer solstice is also a time when people hold barbecues, camp out, and hike up a mountain or go to the beach to watch the sunset.

Carter said she’s missing the festivities, but rainy weather, ironically, is lifting her spirits. At least the festival isn’t being held in the rain, she said. And, “if it was a beautiful sunny day and we didn't have it happening, it would be like a wasted weekend.” 

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Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today, and a long-time Alaska journalist.

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