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Summer Solstice – A Global Celebration of Light

what does summer solstice mean

Summer Solstice 2014 falls on June 21. The word “Solstice” is derived from the Latin words Sol+systere, meaning “Sun”+ “standing still.”  The Summer Solstice is the longest day and the shortest night of the year. Following this Solstice, the days get shorter, the nights longer.

Many traditions throughout time have celebrated the Solstices — Ancient Egypt, and Aztecs of Mexico, Chinese, Chumash Indians of California, Indigenous Europeans. And western civilizations have for centuries celebrated this first day of summer often called Midsummer (see Shakespeare), or St. John’s Day.   The Chinese mark the day by honoring Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light.  Throughout history, with so much light being showered upon the Earth on this day,  it’s been known as one of the most powerful days of the year for spiritual growth and healing.
To this day, revellers still gather at Stonehenge to see the sun rise. (The Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone, set outside the main circle, align with the rising sun.)  And many of the ancient traditions continue - Bonfires are still lit to celebrate the Sun at its height of power and to ask the Sun not to withdraw into winter darkness. Traditionally, Midsummer Eve festivals in the countryside of Cornwall, England would have firelight shinning from every hill and peak. These festivals were celebrated with bright bonfires with dancers adorned in garlands and flowers and young men jumping through the tall flames. This ancient Cornwall Summer Bonfire tradition was revived during the 1920’s and is still a popular festival.
Fire is used symbolically throughout summer solstice celebrations in praise of the sun, to bring luck and to ward off evil spirits.  And the spiral is also a symbol associated with the Solstices. Ancient dances would follow the Sun’s movement like a spiral, people joined hands weaving through the streets, winding into a decreasing spiral into the middle then unwinding back out again. The Sun moving from contraction at the center of the spiral at winter solstice to expansion at Summer Solstice and back again. Festivals in North still continue to dance and play, holding hands in formation of a spiral.
Christians celebrate the Feast of St. John the Baptist on this day. Its rituals are often Pagan-inspired, as it was intended as a substitution for the solstice, to Christianize Pagans. In Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine, it’s called Kupala Day or Ivan Kupala.

If you’re like us and will be celebrating at home, here are 5 ways to create your own summer solstice celebration. 

Citizens of Poznan in Poland celebrate the first official day of summer by releasing over 11,000 paper lanterns into the twilight sky, where they are carried away by the wind.  (video:)

In North America, many Native American tribes held ritual dances to honor the sun. The Sioux were known to hold one of the most spectacular rituals. Usually performed during the June solstice, preparations for the dance included cutting and raising a tree that would be considered a visible connection between the heavens and Earth, and setting up teepees in a circle to represent the cosmos. Participants abstained from food and drink during the dance itself. Their bodies were decorated in the symbolic colors of red (sunset), blue (sky), yellow (lightning), white (light), and black (night)

The Mayans also have a rich history of celebrating summer solstice. They built many phenomenal structures to celebrate the solstices, and even today, thousands flock to the Temple of Kukulcan, which is able to signal the precise moment of the summer solstice, when the sun shines on the north and east sides of the building, it casts a shadow over the south and west sides. From the sky, it would look as if the pyramid were diagonally split into two parts.

How will you celebrate the Summer Solstice? Check out our article with Five Ways to Create Your Own Summer Solstice Celebration.