The word solstice comes from the Latin terms “Sol” meaning sun and “Sistit” meaning stands. Its literal translation is the sun stands still, which references the longest days on Earth, June 21st in the Northern Hemisphere and December 21 in the Southern Hemisphere.
In the Northern Hemisphere on June 21st the sun is directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer while in the Southern Hemisphere on December 21st the sun is directly overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn. If you’re looking for a really good explanation of what the summer solstice is, Allen Butler explains it all in his report of What is the Summer Solstice.
For modern Pagans, the first day of summer, or the summer solstice is a spiritual holiday. The Celts and Slavs celebrated the first day of summer with fires and dancing. Ancient Pagan couples leapt through the flames of the fires and believed that their crops would grow as high as they could jump. Druids celebrated the summer solstice as the marriage of Heaven and Earth while the Chinese celebrated by honoring the Chinese Goddess of Light known as Li.
The summer solstice has also been known as Midsummer or St. John’s days. In ancient times it was considered to be a magical time when evil spirits would make their appearances. The protective themselves from the spirits Pagans would wear garlands of herbs. One of the herbs they used, and considered to be the most powerful, was called Chase-devil now known as St. John’s Wort.
Today the summer solstice is still celebrated around the world. In England people still flock to Stonehenge and Avebury to watch the sun rise.
This summer you can join in the fun and celebrate the solstice with these fun activities, and you don’t have to be Pagan to have a good time and recognize the longest day of the year. Sabah Karimi gives a great outline for fun things to do to celebrate the summer solstice in her article Celebrate the Summer Solstice.
Build Your Own Stonehenge
50 feet of rope
20 or so marker stones
1 Center stake
Find a location that offers you an unobstructed view of the horizon in the west. Make sure the area is large enough to create a large circle. In the area that you will be making your Stonehenge, place a stake in the center and set the compass on top of it. Find due North and using the rope as a guide, move out 50 feet away from the center compass at Due North and place a marker stone. Repeat the process for East, South and West. Place small stones every few feet in between the 4 directional stones.
Keep the Home Fires Burning
Build your own sacred fire and keep it burning from sundown June 20th to Sundown June 21st. Your fire should face the west. Invite friends and family to join you. Sing songs and dance around the fire. If you are able to make two fires take turns having couples walk through between the two fires entering from the west. Exchange gifts and stay up all night to watch the sun rise over the horizon and welcome the first day of summer. Don’t forget to burn your Yule wreath.
Throw a Summer Solstice Feast
For really good feasting ideas, check out Vicki Halliday’s Plan a Longest Day Party for Summer Solstice. Food for the summer solstice should be red and gold in color, include lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, breads and ale. If you can’t afford to throw one on your own do it pot luck style. Get into the spirit of things and concentrate on medevial theme music and decorations. Hold your feast outside and enjoy the sunshine and company with a drumming circle, games and dancing.