Summer is, officially, here! Although school has been out for some time, June 20th marked the longest day of the year and the beginning of summer as we know it. Also known as Midsummer, the summer solstice has been celebrated and honored by civilizations throughout history.
The ancient Greeks and Romans celebrated with feasts and, in both cultures, the solstice aligned with some of their most prominent festivals—the Olympics in Greece and the festival of Vestalia in Rome. The Native American Sun Dance represents this changing of seasons and other early indigenous tribes often built their important structures during solstices. Some pagan traditions believed that certain plants, such as St. John’s wort, roses and rue, possessed different, beneficial properties if picked on the year’s shortest night.
Photo by Adobe Stock/andrewmroland.
So why do we continue to celebrate this ancient holiday?
Like many of our modern traditions, the summer solstice was also married to religious calendars during the rise of Christianity. Throughout Europe, what pagans called the solstice became St. John the Baptist’s Day.
In recent years, studies have been conducted to determine whether humans are happier when the days are longer and have more hours of sunlight. One specific study looked at the tweets of 2.4 million people across the world. The researchers discovered that, based on the content of tweets, people were more positive when the summer solstice was approaching, lengthening the hours of daylight. (Learn more about how vitamin D can improve well-being.)
Although the hours of day shorten following this solstice, it’s a time of optimism and new beginnings. Whether you actively celebrate with established traditions, you probably honor it in other ways throughout the season. Bonfires, picnics, barbecues, family cook-outs and other festivities are all essential parts of summer that allow you to enjoy the weather and sunshine before winter rolls back around.
Think you know everything about the solstice? Test your knowledge with a short quiz!