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Throughout our history, humans have celebrated the turning of the seasons with festivals and rituals, both pagan and religious, and the summer solstice is one of the most enduring. The longest day of the year is the official start of the summer for the Northern Hemisphere, according to astronomical calendars, although warm, sunny days may already have begun.
The solstice will occur on June 20 at 11.31 pm EDT, which will be when the Earth arrives at the point in its orbit where the North Pole is at its maximum tilt towards the Sun (about 23.5 degrees). This alignment gives the northern half of the planet its longest period of sunlight and shortest night all calendar year. Conversely, those in the Southern Hemisphere have their shortest day of the year and the solstice for them means winter is coming.
The term 'solstice' derives from the Latin word 'solstitium', meaning 'sun standing still'. Astrologers say the sun seems to stop at the point on the horizon where it appears to rise and set, before moving off in the reverse direction.
Traditional celebrations around the world
The solstice has been celebrated for millennia. People still travel yearly to Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, where a huge stone circle was built in three phases from 3000 BC to 1600 BC. This mysterious prehistoric monument’s purpose has never been conclusively settled, though many believe it was built at least partially to track the seasons.
In Fairbanks, Alaska, just 140 miles south of the Arctic Circle, the longest day is long indeed, with around 22 hours of functional daylight, usually celebrated with a Midnight Sun Baseball Game and Festival. Seattle has traditionally held the Fremont Fair at the solstice, a huge festival of crafts, live music, food and drinks. The fair is most famous for its parade, which features nude cycling where participants wear only body paint! Times Square, New York, has played host to an annual day-long yoga event in recent years, and the Santa Barbara Summer Solstice parade has a different theme every year.
Solstice 2021: a different time
This year, the summer solstice is likely to be very different. Events and celebrations across the world have been canceled as people continue to observe travel restrictions and lockdown protocols to combat the global pandemic.
However, that doesn’t mean that this year’s summer start needs to go unmarked. We can still celebrate by eating strawberries under the Full Strawberry Moon of June in the northeast of the US. Because the sun actually takes a longer time to dip below the horizon, it’s the perfect time to watch the sunset. The angle of the setting sun is shallower around the solstice, because it is farther from due west along the horizon. Long, low romantic summertime sunsets will be visible all week, which can still be treasured.
Ottawa’s Indigenous Summer Solstice Festival, which has run for 23 years, is partially virtual this year with a program of entertainment, cultural sharing and learning opportunities online throughout June. English Heritage will be livestreaming as the sun rises behind the Heel Stone at the entrance to Stonehenge on Facebook as well as offering interviews with experts and historians on the symbolism of solstice.
The long tradition of welcoming summer has always been about celebrating renewal, toasting a successful growing season, and marking the joy of another winter’s end. Even if we only step outside to enjoy the longest day of the year, we are joining a history of people over thousands of years who have smiled at the dawn of the summer.
As well as celebration, those extra daylight hours can be used to plan ahead, assessing our plans and making certain we’re insured for a brighter future. A survey conducted by New York Life and Ipsos in 2019 found that Millennial parents are more focused on near-term debt-reduction than other generations, but they also most optimistic and aware of the need to plan ahead. Life insurance planning will ensure that your family is taken care of with enough money to pay off any debts and cover bills and daily expenses if you're no longer around.
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