The Summer Solstice, also known as ‘the longest day’, is tomorrow – 20 June. This is when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, with the Earth’s axis tilting most towards it and situated directly above the Tropic of Cancer – and it happens in the northern hemisphere tomorrow.
Technically, the solstice takes place at a specific point in time, which this year will be 22.43pm BST on Saturday 20 June, but most people treat the whole day as special. In terms of daylight, this day is 8 hours, 49 minutes longer than on December Solstice.
On this year’s longest day London will see 16 hours, 38 minutes and 20 seconds of daylight, while John O Groats on Scotland’s northern coast will have 18 hours, 22 minutes and 57 seconds.
The Summer Solstice has had spiritual significance for thousands of years as people have been amazed by the great power of the sun. The Celts celebrated with bonfires that they felt would add to the sun’s energy. Christians placed the feast of St John the Baptist towards the end of June, and this is a festival celebrated with bonfires in many parts of the world, particularly in South America. It is also the festival of Li, the Chinese Goddess of light.
The Summer Solstice is a special day for Pagans. They call it Litha. This term may date back to the 8th century. As the sun is at the height of its power, Litha is celebrated as a time of growth, life, and plenty. However, as Pagans see balance in the world and are deeply aware of the ongoing shifting of the seasons, it is also time to acknowledge that the sun will now begin to decline once more towards winter.
Like other religious groups, Pagans are in awe of the incredible strength of the sun and the divine powers that create life. For Pagans this spoke in the ‘Wheel of the Year’ is a significant point. The Goddess took over the earth from the horned God at the beginning of spring and she is now at the height of her power and fertility. For some Pagans, the Summer Solstice marks the marriage of the God and Goddess and see their union as the force that creates the harvest’s fruits.
In the UK, the Stonehenge celebration is a large draw for people, but other Pagan celebrations happen around the world as well. Crowds of around 10,000 usually gather at Stonehenge to greet the moments that the sun sets and then dawn breaks with a mixture of cheers and silent meditation. But the pandemic has caused the celebrations at Stonehenge to be cancelled this year. Instead both the sun set on 20 June, and the sun rise behind the Heel Stone, the ancient entrance to the Stone Circle, on 21 June, will be live-streamed via the English Heritage social media channels.