This Friday, June 21, is the first day of summer, also known as the Summer Solstice. Nature’s dramatic event moved the poet, Robert Louis Stevenson, to write the following.
Great is the sun, and wide he goes
Through empty heaven with repose;
And in the blue and glowing days
More thick than rain he showers his rays.
Though closer still the blinds we pull
To keep the shady parlour cool,
Yet he will find a chink or two
To slip his golden fingers through.
The dusty attic spider-clad
He, through the keyhole, maketh glad;
And through the broken edge of tiles
Into the laddered hay-loft smiles.
Meantime his golden face around
He bares to all the garden ground,
And sheds a warm and glittering look
Among the ivy’s inmost nook.
Above the hills, along the blue,
Round the bright air with footing true,
To please the child, to paint the rose,
The gardener of the World, he goes.
A little research revealed the following information concerning the importance of the Summer Solstice. It occurs exactly when the Earth’s axial tilt is most inclined towards the sun. While it is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, it is Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, where it is the shortest day of the year. The word “solstice” derives from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still).
Throughout the ages, Summer Solstice has been celebrated in different ways by different civilizations. The Celts and Slavs celebrated the first day of summer by lighting bonfires to increase the sun’s energy. The Chinese mark the day by honoring Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light. The most enduring celebration of Summer Solstice ties in with the Druids, who celebrated the day as the “wedding of Heaven and Earth.” To this day, many still believe that June weddings are lucky.
Perhaps, the largest modern day celebration occurs every summer in England. Thousands gather every year to welcome the sun on Summer Solstice at Stonehenge. Here in the United States, Santa Barbara in California celebrates Summer Solstice with a parade and festival.
Ancient Pagans celebrated Summer Solstice with bonfires. Couples would leap through the flames, believing their crops would grow as high as the couples were able to jump. It was thought to be a magical time when evil spirits would disappear.
Those rituals are no longer celebrated as dramatically, however, the event itself is an important one and has a fascinating history. Through the ages, festivals were held to mark the day. Currently the occasion is still widely celebrated around the world. To me, in a way, the day is somewhat sad because it portends shorter days to come as the season’s progress.