The summer solstice has long been a day of celebration because it marks the start of astronomical summer and is the longest day of the year in terms of daylight.
While it’s widely believed the solstice, the point at which the Northern hemisphere is most inclined towards the sun, always falls on June 21 (what we’ve come to think of as Midsummer’s Day) it can actually happen any time between June 20 and 22 (although June 22 solstices are so rare that the last one happened in 1975 and it won’t occur again until 2203).
This year, however, it’s on Wednesday, June 21, at 5.24 am.
The term solstice comes from the Latin sol, for sun, and sistere, to stand still. For those of us in the Northern hemisphere it’s the time of the year when the sun is nearest to us and ‘pauses’ in the sky before starting to move away once more. After this date the length of daylight hours will slowly diminish. Six months later, on December 21, it will be the winter solstice when the Northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun and we experience the shortest day of the year.
Many ancient rituals and traditions are based around sunrise on the day of the solstice. In Huddersfield this year the midsummer’s sun will rise at 4.37am and set at 9.40pm. However, at Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument famed for solstice celebrations, the sun will rise at 4.52am over the giant Heel Stone, which stands just outside the stone circle. Thousands of visitors every year turn out to witness the spectacle at the English Heritage site; a place that is thought to have held ritual significance for ancient people, who gathered there to feast and worship.
The monument site is open from 7pm on Tuesday, June 20, until 8am on midsummer’s day, with free admission. However, anyone venturing south for the solstice should bear in mind that the car park closes when full or by 6am.
For those planning their own Northern celebrations, the long-range forecast for June 21 in Huddersfield this year is cool and cloudy but dry. However, it should be warmer for those partying the night away on June 20 in preparation for the solstice.