Has a smile of light,
And she sits on a sapphire throne.
–Barry Cornwall, English poet (1787–1874)
This year, the solstice brings summer on Wednesday, June 20, at 7:09 P.M. (ET).
The word solstice is from the Latin solstitium, from sol (Sun) and stitium (to stop), as the Sun appears to stop at this time (and again at the winter solstice). Read more about the solstice and first day of summer!
Did you know that the solstices and the equinoxes this year occur earlier than in any year since 1896? This is because the year 2000, which was an “extra” leap year (the first time in four centuries that such a change was made), combined with 2012, a routine leap year, to create a tweak of time that jump-starts the seasons this year.
Although Midsummer Day occurs near the summer solstice, or what we think of as the beginning of summer, to the farmer it is the midpoint of the growing season, halfway between planting and harvesting, and an occasion for celebration.
Although it's also the feast day of St. John the Baptist, it features pagan traditions such as bonfires, fire walking, and a carnival atmosphere, all of which took place on Midsummer Eve.
Certainly, it's a night of magic and soothsaying as well, for as Washington Irving said, this is a time
"when it is well known all kinds of ghosts, goblins, and fairies become visible and walk abroad."
After Midsummer Day, the days shorten. In Lithuanian tradition, the dew on Midsummer Day was said to make young girls beautiful and old people look younger. It was also thought that walking barefoot in the dew would keep one's skin from getting chapped. It was customary to honor all men named John on this day by fixing wreaths of oak leaves around their doors. This is usually done in secret, and John must guess who did it or catch the person in the act, in which case he must give the person a treat.
Midsummer Day falls on June 24. Near the solstice, it was traditionally the midpoint of the growing season for the farmer.
We say, Enjoy every extra minute of summer!