WEDNESDAY, JUNE 20: If the term “Midsummer” conjures up more images than Shakespeare, you’re in good company today: It’s the Northern Solstice, also known as the June solstice in the Northern Hemisphere (and, more affectionately, termed “midsummer”). Whether you’ll be partying at InternationalSwede’s lush New York party, visiting Stonehenge, taking in the Aymara New Year festivities in Bolivia or just sitting beneath a shady tree and reading Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (access the full text here), enjoy the weather today—and join the Northern Hemisphere’s celebration of summer.
Scientifically, the solstice is an astronomical event that happens in one short moment: for an instant, the sun appears to stand still—thus, the Latin sol for “sun” and sistere for “to stand still.” The sun, which appeared to be traveling upward to its highest position over the Tropic of Cancer, reverses direction and begins to decline. From the perspective of the Northern Hemisphere, this is the “longest day of the year.”
DID YOU KNOW? Times are changing! It’s true in terms of the solstice, too: In 6000 BCE, the Northern solstice year had an extra 50:35 above 365 days and five hours; this time shrunk to 47:55 just 12 years ago, and will remain between 47:45 and 48:00 until 10000 CE.
Europe thrives with Midsummer gaiety today—or in a few days, on the fixed date of Midsummer in England—and in some countries, the party lasts several days. It’s custom to begin festivities in the evening, and continue throughout the arid night; in Scandinavia, Estonia and Latvia, Midsummer festivities rank second only to Christmas.
Shakespeare’s famed play will soon be taking on a new look in England, as Michael Grandage sets the stage for an “anarchically sexual” version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” (Read more in this news article.) According to those involved, the revised play will capitalize on the instinctive feeling of being in the forest and emphasize Shakespeare’s theoretically rude comedic lines. Interested in a “rated G” version of Solstice? Those in England can visit Liverpool’s World Museum’s exhibit on “Summer Solstice and Sundials.” Those at home can try a hand at making their own, with some help from Sky & Telescope Magazine.
FOR PAGANS AND WICCANS:
Ancient records indicate that pagans observed Litha on the longest day of the year, thus marking the time of light and life. Modern Pagans and Wiccans look to the Sun God, reaching his greatest power at this time, symbolizing this power with enormous bonfires; the Sun God Himself is depicted in greenery, on a greenwood throne, as king of the forests. (Read more at Wicca.com.) Some Wiccan covens mark Old Litha on June 25, kicking off a fixed Midsummer Night’s Eve with ties to a Faerie faith.
Wiccan, Pagan or neither, you can celebrate Litha by simply enjoying the day outside! Visit the beach; have a barbecue with a bonfire; storytell when the night comes and dine on garden-fresh vegetables.