Solstice’ literally means stopping or standing still of the sun. It is used as a name for the longest day of the year – 21 June – when the sun is at its highest point in the northern hemisphere. The sun reaches its highest position in the sky twice a year as seen from the north or south pole. This is when either hemisphere is tipped towards the sun more than on any other day of the year.
The day of the solstice has the longest period of sunlight in the calendar year (16 hours and 38 minutes in London). The only exception is in polar regions, where daylight can last for days or months.
The summer solstice is celebrated by thousands of pagans across the world who believe in the sun’s power and celebrate summer for its association with life and fertility. Pagans, and also Celts, traditionally light bonfires to add to the sun’s energy.
As Earth orbits the sun, it tilts 23.5 degrees on its axis. Our summer solstice occurs when Earth’s northern hemisphere faces toward the sun most directly.
Why isn’t the longest day of the year also the hottest? Even though Earth’s oceans and atmosphere soak up the most rays on the summer solstice, it takes them several weeks to re-radiate that energy back to us.
For those in the southern hemisphere, June 21 marks the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.
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.
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