Revelers watch the sunrise as they celebrate the pagan festival of Summer Solstice at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, southern England on June 21, 2018. Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images

The summer solstice occurs twice a year – once in the Northern Hemisphere (in June) and once in the Southern Hemisphere (in December). It occurs when the Sun travels along its northernmost path in the sky. On the day of this solstice, the Northern Hemisphere receives sunlight at the most direct angle of the year. And in the Southern Hemisphere, it marks the beginning of winter

According to the astronomical definition of the seasons, the summer solstice also marks the beginning of summer, which lasts until the autumnal equinox (September 22 or 23 in the Northern Hemisphere, or March 20 or 21 in the Southern Hemisphere). 


Today at 5:14 am EDT (2.44 pm IST) in the Northern Hemisphere, we will witness the summer solstice or the June solstice, that is, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and the shortest day in the Southern Hemisphere. June solstice also marks the onset summer season in the Northern Hemisphere and the winter season in the Southern Hemisphere.

The science behind the summer solstice


It occurs when the axis of Earth is at its maximum tilt towards the sun at 23.44 degrees. Because the Sun’s rays are titled, therefore it is shifted northward from the Equator by the same amount(23.44 degrees), the vertical noon rays are directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer (23°27´ N). Earth experiences the longest period of sunlight on the summer solstice as the sun reaches the highest point in the sky.

Facts regarding the summer solstice :

  • The word “solstice” comes from the Latin words “sol” (i.e. sun) and “sisters” (i.e. stationary). It occurs twice a year. In the Northern Hemisphere, it happens in June, and in the Southern Hemisphere, it occurs in December.
  • A few thousand years ago, the solstice happened when the sun was in the constellation of Cancer (Latin for crab) and that’s how the line of latitude, Tropic of Cancer was named.

Traditions held due to the summer solstice:

Over the centuries, the June solstice has inspired many festivals and midsummer celebrations both within the influential and developed communities and also within the tribal communities. According to the National Trust, these customs serve both “practical needs” while others originate from “spiritual and superstitious beliefs”. Common rituals involve bonfires, picnics, singing, dancing, watching the sunrise, and many more.

European homes hang medicinal plants in doorways or place plants that are dipped in water.

Both in Sweden and Spain, houses are decorated and adorned with greenery as they mark the astronomical beginning of the summer.

Pre-Christian pagan customs are still observed today to “keep demons away and bring good luck to lovers”. They celebrate ‘Midsummer’s Eve’ – a separate event that will take place on June 24.

Finland celebrates this occasion by holding bonfires by lakes and the sea. And in Ukraine, young men and women leap over flames to cleanse themselves of ill fortune.


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