|Sun rising at Stonehenge on Summer Solstice|
Summer Solstice is a time of celebration of the cycle of life and of the gifts that the sun and nature have to offer. It is the longest day of the year when the power of the sun is at its strongest, and the day when the north pole is most tilted towards the sun, causing it to have the highest and longest path through the sky. Based on the Gregorian calendar, the summer solstice occurs some time between June 20 and June 22 in the northern hemisphere, depending on the shift of the calendar. It is also known as Midsummer, Litha and the Northern Solstice because it occurs when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere.
Nearly every agricultural society has marked the high point of summer in some way, shape or form and it has been celebrated as a life and fertility festival by Pagans, Celts and Druids for thousands of years. The travels of the sun were marked and recorded. Stone circles such as Stonehenge were oriented to highlight the rising of the sun on the day of the summer solstice.
Although few primary sources are available detailing the practices of the ancient Celts, some information can be found in the chronicles kept by early Christian monks. Some of these writings, combined with surviving folklore, indicate that Summer Solstice was celebrated with hilltop bonfires and that it was a time to honor the space between earth and the heavens.
In addition to the polarity between land and sky, in many cultures Summer Solstice was a time to find a balance between fire and water. European traditions celebrated this time of year by setting large wheels on fire and then rolling them down a hill into a body of water. This may be because this is when the sun is at its strongest yet also the day at which it begins to weaken. Another possibility is that the water mitigates the heat of the sun, and subordinating the sun wheel to water may prevent drought.
Solstice comes from the Latin words "sol" and "sistere" meaning "sun stands still", a reference to how, when seen from Earth, the sun appears to pause before its position in the sky reverses direction.
Enjoy every minute of the longest day of the year! I know I will! :)