How to Mark the Summer Solstice

Author:

Florence Robson

20/06/2022
True Grace

June is here. The trees and hedgerows are in full leaf, the flowers are in bloom and trailing their scent, and butterflies flutter through the air. School holidays are on the horizon, the weather is warming and the cheery sound of a passing ice cream van occasionally drifts through the open window. 

The evenings stretch, so that we fall asleep in the twilight and wake to bright beams of sunlight at dawn. We are approaching the longest day: otherwise known as the summer solstice.

What is the summer solstice?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice (or June solstice) marks the moment during the year when the path of the sun in the sky is farthest north. On this day, the sun travels the longest path through the sky, giving us the most daylight we’ll have all year. The summer solstice shifts between 20th, 21st and 22nd June, depending on when the sun reaches its northernmost point from the celestial equator.

The solstice is widely celebrated as marking the beginning of summer, which then lasts until the autumnal equinox in September. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is the opposite, with the June solstice marking the astronomical start of winter.

“...the summer solstice is a wonderful time of year, marking the return of long, leisurely evenings"

Marking the solstice around the world

The solstice has been widely revered and celebrated for millennia, with specific traditions differing across countries, cultures and religions. Scandinavians welcome Midsummer (which falls shortly after the solstice, on 24th June) with maypole dancing and feasting, while the locals in Fairbanks, Alaska, play the ‘Midnight Sun’ baseball game, traditionally kicking off at 10.30pm to celebrate the lightness of the night. In the Austrian Alps, people light bonfires on mountaintops, while Egyptians gather to watch the sun setting between the pyramids in Giza.

And, of course, in Wiltshire, England – just around the corner from True Grace HQ – you’ll find thousands of people from across the world gathering to celebrate the summer solstice at Stonehenge.

Stonehenge and the solstices

Visitors have flocked to Stonehenge to mark the summer solstice for thousands of years. The monument has a special connection to the solstice: at this time of year, the sun rises in the northeast, behind the Heel Stone and shines into the heart of the Stonehenge circle. At the winter solstice in December, the same sight occurs at sunset. Although they can’t speak with complete certainty, experts are fairly sure that the stones were deliberately positioned to respect the line of the solstices.

If you find yourself at Stonehenge on the eve of the summer solstice, you would see a diverse crowd, from Druids and Pagans holding ceremonies to secular revellers celebrating with drinks and dancing. On this one day of the year, visitors are even allowed to touch the stones themselves (as long as they are respectful, of course).

Stonehenge isn’t Wiltshire’s only sacred monument associated with the summer solstice. 24 miles north you’ll find Avebury, an ancient henge which contains the largest stone circle in Britain, enclosing two smaller circles in turn. This sacred land – including a beautiful village – is also home to other famed Neolithic sites including Silbury hill and West Kennet Long Barrow. Locals gather at the Red Lion pub, which overlooks the stones, to kick off the solstice celebrations.

How to celebrate the summer solstice

Whatever your faith, the summer solstice is a wonderful time of year, marking the return of long, leisurely evenings and sunny days. Celebrations are often focused on fertility, with food in abundance and the natural world at its greenest.

If you can’t make it to Stonehenge, here are some other ways to mark the occasion.

Try a sun salutation: This yoga sequence is at the heart of vinyasa practices, incorporating twelve linked poses. Why not try it outside with the grass under your feet and the sun overhead?

Build a bonfire: Whether you leap over it or huddle around it with friends and family, bonfires are traditional at solstice time and are thought to keep demons away.

Collect summer flowers and herbs: According to folklore, you should forage for herbs and flowers with medicinal properties before dawn on the summer solstice to maximise their potency.

Stay up to welcome the sun as it rises: Some cultures believe that anyone seeing the sun rise on the solstice will remain in good health throughout the rest of the year.

Taste the first strawberries of the season: June’s full moon is also known as the Strawberry Moon, marking the start of the strawberry harvest. What better time to pick and sample local fruit?

Go for a forest walk: Many midsummer traditions focus on reconnecting with nature. Head into the forest for a walk to calm your mind and refresh your body. Look out for oak trees, in particular, as they are traditionally at the centre of Midsummer celebrations.

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