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Though most of you probably are well into your summer break, the astronomical season does not begin until June 20. Called summer solstice, it is the day when the North Pole is most inclined towards the sun, allowing residents of the Northern Hemisphere, to enjoy the longest day (and shortest night) of the year. Of course, the opposite is true for the Southern Hemisphere where residents will celebrate winter solstice and experience the shortest day (and longest night) of the year.
Though all countries north of the equator will enjoy at least 12 hours of daylight, many will get even more. The residents of the beautiful city of San Francisco, CA will bask in over 14 hours of sunshine, while the folks in London, UK, will enjoy just over 18 hours. Stockholm will experience 21 hours of light and the Arctic Circle, a full 24-hours!
Though we now know the reason the sun “stands still’ on this day, ancient cultures believed the extra daylight hours were evidence the star was not abandoning them. They, therefore, commemorated the event with joyous rituals, some of which continue till this day.
One of the oldest and most revered solstice celebrations takes place at Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England. Every year, thousands of people make their way to this ancient site early in the morning to pay respect to the rising sun. In Sweden, residents mark the day by weaving freshly picked flowers into wreaths and crowns. The age-old tradition is believed to harness nature’s magic to ensure good health for the year. Locals also mark the day with traditional dances around a maypole, or midsummer pole, decorated with greenery and flowers.
In the Polish city of Poznan, “St. John’s Night,” as it is called, is celebrated with the release of thousands of candle-lit paper lanterns featuring personal messages from their creators. In 2012, the locals established a Guinness World Record by setting free 15,000 colorful lanterns that illuminated the skies with a breathtaking display of colorful dots.
Japan's “candle nights” puts a modern-day twist on the event. Started in 2003, the environmentally friendly celebration urges residents to turn off all lights and electrical devices from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM for two weeks. In New York City, residents head over to the bustling Times Square with their yoga mats to participate in “Mind over Madness Yoga.”
The coastal US city of Santa Barbara, CA, hosts a giant parade featuring numerous floats, massive puppets, and masks, while San Franciscans take advantage of the extra daylight with storytelling and bonfire celebrations at the city's numerous beaches. Does your town or city have a fun summer solstice ritual? Be sure to let us know by adding your comments below.
Resources: realscandinavia.com, wikipedia.org, travelandleisure.com