MONDAY, JUNE 21: Revel in the power of the sun today as those in the Northern Hemisphere recognize summer solstice, the one day of the year when the sun appears to shine for the longest period of time. (Those in the Southern Hemisphere observe the winter solstice today. Wikipedia has details.) For millennia, people have been in awe of the sun’s powerful ability to provide energy, light and sustenance for life on Earth; in almost every culture and religious community, elaborate festivals have long been held to celebrate the solstices. Although the sun appears to shine longest on the summer solstice, the Earth actually is tilted on its axis so that it is inclined toward the sun more than usual. Today, for northerners, the sun will appear to “stand still” before it reverses its direction and begins slowly tilting further away from the sun.
Traditionally, pagans have welcomed the solstices at monuments—like Stonehenge—with feasts, reverences for gods and bonfires. At Stonehenge, the Stone Circle was erected specifically so that the stones are aligned with the first rays of the sun’s solstice light, and pagans have been celebrating solstice at this site for thousands of years. Modern Pagans and other attendees were banned from Stonehenge festivals until the year 2000, after more than a decade of out-of-control parties led to a 15-year ban on the site. For many modern Pagans, the defacing of the stones during the parties was an outrage, and since festivals at this site have long been a pagan tradition, groups began to push for a reopening of the site during the solstices. Since 2000, crowds at Stonehenge during solstice have been respectful, and last year the site saw record attendance during summer solstice with 36,500 attendees. (Read an article and view a video courtesy of The Telegraph, a European publication.)
This year, the American Museum of Natural History honored the sun by presenting a Summer Solstice Celebration. (This NYTimes article has more.) Besides hosting demonstrations that visually proved Galileo’s theories, the event allowed children to make related items like solar prints—images darkened by the sun, instead of by chemicals—and UV bead bracelets, pieces of jewelry that can be used to test everything from sunscreen effectiveness to sunglasses. Making real solar prints is an expensive process, but try out this neat sun craft that uses similar means and is easy to do at home. If your kids enjoy making jewelry, UV beads are available at many science stores and websites. Interested in doing even more? Revere the sun in a modern way by reading all about solar power, and consider harnessing the sun’s energy to help the environment.
(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)
(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)