The Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere falls on either June 20 or 21, depending on the year and where you are located. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Summer Solstice occurs on December 20 or 21.
Solstice means standstill: the Solstice window lasts for three days, during which the Sun appears to be at standstill where it rises and sets. This means that when you look at the horizon, the Sun appears to rise and set in the same place, instead of slightly to the right or left of where it rose or set the previous day.
The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year. Given all that available daylight, it makes sense that this is the most extraverted time of year in terms of socializing, seeing and being seen, so it’s a great time for meeting new people, reconnecting with old friends, and having fun. In the most northern countries especially, the calendar is full with festivals and sporting events to make the most of the short summer months.
The Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere marks the point at which the Sun enters the area of the sky occupied by the constellation of Cancer, when the Sun is at 0 degrees Cancer. Confusingly, this time is considered to be both Midsummer, and the official beginning of Summer, of the Summer or third quarter of the year.
The period around the solstice is traditionally known as Midsummer and was believed to be a time for fairies and magic. In ancient pagan Solstice celebrations huge fires were lit on the hilltops. Livestock were driven through the fires to be purified, while the people danced around and leaped over the fires for the same reason.
Traditionally, June 24 is Midsummer Day, and either Midsummer Day or Midsummer Eve (the evening of June 23) was celebrated in most European countries, and in some areas is still a special day of festivity.
The Midsummer pagan celebration of June 24 was adopted as St John’s birthday by the Christian Church. This practice seems to have developed gradually throughout Europe. We know that certainly in the seventh century Saint Eligius encouraged the celebration of St John’s birthday and warned against the customary pagan rites.
I’ve often been in Southwest France for the Summer Solstice, where there is an unbroken tradition of celebrating the longest day with a huge community bonfire, a party with live music, and as always, lots of food. The festival is called the Fête de St. Jean, the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist.
St. John is the polar opposite of the male archetype associated with Jesus, whose birthday was of course assigned to the Winter Solstice, exactly six months away. St. John was the wild, fiery counterpart to the calm, sacrificial Jesus of the winter. In his gospel, Luke notes that John was born six months before Christ, which was the reason the Catholic Church gave for John’s birthday being assigned to June 24.
The Summer Solstice begins when the Sun moves into Cancer, ruled by the Moon, significator of the matriarchal archetype. The Winter Solstice occurs when the Sun moves into the sign of Capricorn, ruled by Saturn, signifying the patriarchal archetype.
Over the past millennia, the shifting of celebratory emphasis in the year from Midsummer to the Winter Solstice reflects the accompanying dominance of the patriarchal model of social organization.
In most countries in the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas/Winter Solstice is the dominant collective holiday, but in areas where the winter is particularly long and hard Midsummer is almost its equal, and is a national holiday in Sweden, Finland, and Latvia.
Summer and Love
Traditionally the Summer Solstice is the time of marriage, occurring at the juncture between the signs of Gemini (soul mates, twin souls, partnership) and Cancer (family, nurturing).
The solstice was also a time to wish for love: young men who succeeded in jumping over the Solstice bonfires were said to be going to find their true love in the coming year. This tradition continues today in parts of Europe including rural France.
The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon
The Summer Solstice occurs at 0 degrees of Cancer, the moment of the Sun’s entry into the sign that, since ancient times, people have considered “belongs” to the Moon. This means that at the peak of the Sun’s influence on the Earth, it is in the part of the sky ruled by the Moon. In archetypal terms, this means that masculine Sun power at its peak is filtered through the prism of feminine Moon energy, making for a symbolic marriage.
The Summer Solstice is energetically like a magnified Full Moon. The Moon is Full when the Sun and Moon oppose each other in the sky i.e. they are in opposite signs of the zodiac.
The Full Moon at any time of the year is also traditionally considered to be a good time for marriage, as well as for making love potions and invoking the help of the unseen in finding true love.
As mentioned above, the Summer Solstice is the traditional time within the annual cycle for marriage, for the union of male and female. Each Full Moon evokes a similar version of this union, and is the best time within the monthly lunar cycle for marriage.
Celebrating the Solstice
It’s both grounding and uplifting to take at least a moment during the Solstice period to acknowledge the shift of the season and the ingress into the next quarter of the year, and a great time to do a ritual and/or meditation on the energy of this moment.
It’s probably the best time of the year to stay up all night in meditation, if you want to experience your mind in deep quiet and darkness along with the special feeling of the middle of the night. The night is relatively short, after all, and we need less sleep at this time of the year.
If you can, get up before dawn on at least one of the mornings in the Solstice window, and go to a good vantage point to watch the Sun come up in the East. You will never forget it!