It's Summer Solstice AKA The Longest Day Of 2012!
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, today, June 20th, may seem never-ending - one in which the sun just does not wish to set. Depending on your location that may actually be the case, because today happens to be the first day of summer and also, the longest day of the year!
Known as the summer solstice, it is the day when the Earth's axis is most inclined toward the sun. In normal years, this usually takes place on June 21st. However, thanks to the fact that 2012 is a leap year, this year the solstice is earlier, by a day.
Countries in the Southern Hemisphere experience a similar phenomenon, except in reverse order - Today is the first day of winter and therefore the shortest day of the year, whilst December 21st, will be the longest, marking the first day of summer.
The amount (or lack of) sun received during this day, depends on the location of your city or town. Washington D.C. on the east coast of United States will receive almost 16 hours, while the islands of Hawaii in the southwest corner of the country will have to settle for just a tad over 13. Head over to Europe and you will be able to soak in over 18 hours of sunshine in London or more than 21 hours in Stockholm. The best place to be however, is north of the Arctic Circle where the sun will not set at all! Conversely, the Antarctica or South Pole will not see any sunlight today.
While we now know the cause of this phenomenon, ancient cultures regarded it as a spiritual occasion and celebrated it with joyous rituals - Some of which continue till today. One of the oldest and biggest celebrations takes place at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England where thousands of people gather each year, to pay homage to the rising sun. The Swedes celebrate the day with a week-long festival, whilst the people of Poland leap over bonfires to ward off evil spirits.
Some modern day rituals have also been started in recent years. Japan celebrates it with Candle Nights a two-week event to help the environment. Started in 2003, it encourages people all over the world to turn off lights (and all electrical devices) from 8.00 pm to 10 pm every single day, for a fortnight.
New York City celebrates the first day of summer with 'mind over madness' yoga - A free, open for all event where the only requirement is a yoga mat and the desire to sit in awkward poses in the middle of the bustling Times Square. In San Francisco, the day is celebrated with storytelling, songs and bonfires at a number of the city's local beaches. Does your town or city have a summer solstice ritual? if so, be sure to let us know by adding your comments below.
Resources: Washingtonpost.com,wikipedia.org, huffingtonpost.com