“The summer solstice is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The sun has been inching its way back into our lives ever since the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Rising slightly earlier each morning and setting a minute or two later every night, it graces us with light gradually gained. The change, the shift, is at first imperceptibly slow. But it is steady, and soon the minute-by-minute accumulation of daylight asserts itself in measures of hours. More and more hours of sun warmed shine.
By the spring equinox, the halfway point in the annual solar swing, the length of day and night is equal everywhere on Earth. The constant accretion of light continues for three more months until the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. That’s about 15 hours of sunlight in New York City and 21 hours in Fairbanks, Alaska. In Sweden, it is indeed the land of the midnight sun. And at the North Pole, the sun doesn’t set at all.
The seasonal ascendance of light and temperature is not — despite popular belief — due to our distance from the sun, but to the degree of directness of its rays. It would be logical on the face of it to assume that in the smarmy summer the earth approaches closest to the sun, and that we are furthest away from it in the cold, dark of winter. Not so. The earth reaches its perihelion, the point on our orbit which brings us closest to the sun, in winter (this year it was on January 1); and conversely, during summer (July 6, 2011) we attain our aphelion, the furthest reach of our range from the sun.
Though the distance from the sun is greatest in the summer, it is around the summer solstice that the sun sits highest in the sky. The steep path of its rays is angled directly overhead. Vertical. Its energy aimed arrow-like straight down on us. The summer solstice is the lightest, brightest, most brilliant summit of solar power. The peak, the potent pinnacle. The absolute apex of radiant energy extended toward us from our own shining star.
The summer solstice is the height of the glory of the season of the sun. And it is all downhill from there. For once it is as light, as bright, as ripe as it can possibly get, it just can’t get any better. It is then that the dark must begin to creep back. Back and back in tiny daily increments, bringing cold and death in its wake. The eventual return of the dark completes the annual solar circuit, the swing shift of sunlight.
On the solstice and for several days surrounding it, the sun stands sentinel at dawn, hovering, as it were, before beginning its descent into dark. It seems to stand stark still in the sky, which is exactly what the word solstice means — “sun stands still.” It stands proud and tall for our total admiration and enthusiastic tribute. And like the sun, we stand still and tall, as well, basking in its full attention.
If we celebrate the birth of the brand new sun and the return of the light at the winter solstice, we salute its vibrant expansive maturity at the solstice in the summer. We exalt in the season’s vital strength — and our own — even as we acknowledge its impending and inevitable loss of virility, fertility and ultimate demise. With bittersweet recognition of the impermanence of the season, we glory in that golden gift of heat and bright light. While we can.”
Written by Donna Henes: Urban shaman, eco-ceremonialist, ritual expert and consultant