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Summer solstice: A celebration of light and warmth

The summer solstice isn’t just a date on the calendar; it’s a celestial event that marks a turning point in our planet’s journey around the sun. 

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it signifies the official start of summer, the longest day of the year, and a time steeped in tradition and celebration.

What is summer solstice?

Imagine Earth as a spinning top tilted on its axis. This tilt is what gives us our seasons. During the summer solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted towards the sun at its maximum angle. 

This means we get the most direct sunlight, leading to the longest day and the shortest night of the year.

The exact date can vary between June 20th, 21st, or 22nd, depending on the year and your time zone. 

It is important to note that this is the astronomical start of summer, not to be confused with the meteorological start, which is always June 1st for convenience in weather tracking.

A moment frozen in time

During the summer solstice, the sun reaches its highest point in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere. This is due to Earth’s tilt on its axis as it orbits the sun. 

For a brief period, the sun seems to pause at this peak before it gradually begins its descent, signifying the days will start to get shorter. 

This apparent pause is where the term “solstice” comes from, derived from the Latin words “sol” (sun) and “sistere” (to stand still).

Why do we celebrate summer solstice?

The summer solstice has been a focal point for celebration and reverence in cultures around the world for millennia. It marks a time of joy, abundance, and a deep connection to the natural world as the Earth basks in the longest hours of daylight. 

Ancient civilizations recognized the significance of this celestial event, incorporating it into their spiritual practices and even their architecture.

The Egyptians, for instance, constructed their pyramids so that the sun would align perfectly with specific chambers and passages during the solstices. 

The Mayans, known for their advanced astronomical knowledge, built observatories to track the sun’s movements, and their temples were often aligned to the rising or setting sun on the solstices.

Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument in England, stands as a testament to humanity’s enduring fascination with the solstice. On the morning of the summer solstice, the sun rises precisely over the Heel Stone, a marker outside the main circle of standing stones. 

This alignment is thought to have held profound meaning for the people who built Stonehenge, possibly connected to fertility rites or agricultural cycles.

Traditions and festivities around the world

There are different traditions and festivals to celebrate summer solstice:


In Scandinavian countries, Midsummer is a major celebration. This festive occasion marks the summer solstice with various traditions and activities.


Bonfires are a central element of Midsummer celebrations. They symbolize the sun and its life-giving energy. Communities gather around these fires, enjoying their warmth and light. The bonfires often serve as focal points for social gatherings, providing a place for people to meet and celebrate together.

Flower crowns

Wearing flower crowns is a beloved Midsummer tradition. People, especially children and young adults, make crowns from fresh flowers and greenery. These crowns represent the beauty and abundance of nature at its peak. They also add a colorful and festive touch to the celebrations.

Dancing and feasting

Dancing is a key part of Midsummer festivities. Traditional dances, often performed around a decorated maypole, bring people together in joyous movement.

Feasting is another important aspect, with families and friends sharing meals that include seasonal foods like new potatoes, pickled herring, and strawberries. The celebrations continue well into the night, taking advantage of the long daylight hours.

Stonehenge Gatherings

Each year, thousands of people gather at Stonehenge to witness the sunrise on the summer solstice. This ancient stone circle in England is aligned with the solstice sunrise, making it a significant site for this event.

Spiritual experience

For many, the gathering at Stonehenge is a spiritual experience. The solstice sunrise, framed by the ancient stones, creates a profound sense of connection to the past and the rhythms of the earth. Participants often feel a deep sense of awe and reverence as they watch the sun rise over the horizon.

Connection to the ancient past

Stonehenge’s alignment with the solstice has long fascinated people. The monument’s construction, dating back thousands of years, shows a sophisticated understanding of astronomy by its builders. The solstice gatherings provide a tangible link to this ancient knowledge and the people who created Stonehenge.

Community and Celebration

The event at Stonehenge is not just about observing the sunrise; it’s also a communal celebration. People from various backgrounds and beliefs come together to mark this special day. The atmosphere is one of unity and shared purpose, as everyone gathers to witness a moment that has been celebrated for millennia.

Festivals of Light

Many cultures around the world celebrate the solstice with festivals of light. These celebrations symbolize the sun’s power and the triumph of light over darkness.


Lighting bonfires is a common practice in solstice celebrations. These fires symbolize the strength and energy of the sun at its peak. They are often the center of communal gatherings, providing warmth and a focal point for festivities.


Some cultures use fireworks to celebrate the solstice. The bright, colorful displays in the night sky highlight the theme of light and celebration. Fireworks create a festive and exhilarating atmosphere, adding excitement to the solstice events.

Candles and lanterns

Lighting candles and lanterns is another way to honor the solstice. This practice is often more intimate and personal, allowing individuals and families to create their own small celebrations of light. Candles and lanterns can be used to decorate homes, gardens, and public spaces, creating a warm and welcoming glow.

Solstice in Times Square

Every year, thousands of people gather in New York City’s Times Square to participate in a unique celebration of the summer solstice. This event, known as “Solstice in Times Square: Mind Over Madness Yoga,” transforms one of the busiest and most iconic places in the world into a serene yoga haven.

Free yoga classes

Throughout the day, free yoga classes are offered to participants of all skill levels. These classes are led by well-known yoga instructors and are designed to accommodate everyone, from beginners to advanced practitioners.

The event typically features multiple yoga sessions, starting early in the morning and continuing until sunset. This allows people to join at a time that suits their schedule and experience the calming effects of yoga amidst the hustle and bustle of the city.

The theme of “Mind Over Madness Yoga” revolves around celebrating the light within and around us. This aligns with the summer solstice’s symbolism of light, growth, and renewal. Practicing yoga on the longest day of the year serves as a reminder to embrace inner peace and balance.

Science behind the seasons of summer solstice

While the summer solstice is a time of celebration, it’s also a captivating display of our planet’s celestial mechanics. The Earth doesn’t spin upright like a top; it’s tilted on its axis at approximately 23.5 degrees. This tilt, combined with Earth’s year-long journey around the sun, is the driving force behind our changing seasons.

During the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, this tilt positions us to receive the most direct sunlight, leading to longer days and warmer temperatures. 

However, Earth’s orbit is a continuous cycle. As we move past the solstice, our planet’s tilt gradually starts to shift the Northern Hemisphere away from the sun’s direct rays.

This shift causes the days to gradually shorten and the nights to lengthen. The sun’s path across the sky appears lower, and its energy becomes less intense, ushering in the cooler temperatures of autumn. 

This progression eventually leads us to the autumn equinox, where day and night are of equal length, and ultimately to the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.

Summer solstice impact on nature

The summer solstice significantly impacts the natural world. This period of extended daylight and warmer temperatures profoundly affects plant growth and animal behavior.

Plant growth during solstice

During the summer solstice, the increased daylight hours provide plants with more light from the sun.

Sunlight is essential for photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert light energy into chemical energy. As a result, plants grow more vigorously during this time.

Gardens flourish

Home gardens experience a burst of growth. Flowers bloom, vegetables ripen, and herbs thrive. The long days and warm temperatures create ideal conditions for plant development.

Rapid crop growth

Farmers benefit from the solstice as crops like corn, wheat, and soybeans grow quickly. This period is crucial for agricultural productivity, ensuring a bountiful harvest later in the year.

Lush forests 

Forests also reach their peak during the solstice. Trees are full of leaves, creating dense canopies. This lush growth supports a variety of wildlife, providing food and shelter.

Animal behavior during summer solstice

Animals respond to the solstice in various ways, adapting their behaviors to take advantage of the favorable conditions.

Birds sing earlier

With the extended daylight, birds begin their morning songs earlier. This behavior, known as the “dawn chorus,” is most pronounced around the solstice. Birds sing to mark their territory and attract mates, taking advantage of the quiet early hours.

Reproductive activity peaks

Many animal species experience a peak in reproductive activity during the solstice. The abundance of food and mild weather create optimal breeding conditions.

For instance, deer often give birth to fawns around this time, ensuring their young have the best chance of survival.

Increased foraging

Animals, such as squirrels and insects, increase their foraging activities. The plentiful food sources allow them to build up reserves for less abundant times.

Embracing the summer solstice

Even if you don’t partake in traditional festivities, there are plenty of ways to embrace the summer solstice.

Spend time outdoors

Take advantage of the extra daylight to hike, bike, or simply enjoy a picnic in the park. The extended hours of sunlight provide more opportunities to engage in outdoor activities, allowing you to immerse yourself in nature and appreciate the warm weather.

Observe the sunrise or sunset

Witnessing the sun at its highest point in the sky can be a truly awe-inspiring experience. Find a comfortable spot with a clear view of the horizon to watch the sunrise or sunset.

This simple yet profound act can help you connect with the natural world and the passage of time.

Reflect on the cycles of nature

The solstice is a reminder of the constant change and renewal happening all around us. Take some time to reflect on these natural cycles.

Consider how the changing seasons affect the environment, wildlife, and even your own life. This reflection can foster a deeper appreciation for nature and its rhythms.

Start a new project or set goals

The solstice can be a symbolic starting point for new beginnings. Use this time to start a new project or set personal goals.

Whether it’s a creative endeavor, a fitness routine, or a professional objective, the solstice can mark the beginning of your journey. Embracing new challenges and aspirations can bring a sense of purpose and direction.

The summer solstice is more than just a scientific event; it’s a reminder of our connection to the natural world and the cycles of the Earth. It’s a time to celebrate light, life, and the endless possibilities that each new day brings.


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