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Summer Solstice Celebrations Past and Present

Humans have a long history of celebrating the changing of seasons.


Summer solstice may be a blip on the radar to many going about their day, but the longest day of the year was considered a major spoke in an annual wheel that was honored as it turned by many people throughout history.

From Chumash villages to the circle of Stonehenge, maximum daylight hours have drawn ancient and modern revelers alike to stay up past their bedtimes dancing, singing and sometimes drinking. But for ancient civilizations, the solstice was more than a good reason to party.

For the Celtics, who considered the day to be one of the times of the year when the veil between the spirit world and the real world was the thinnest, summer solstice celebrations were more than observances--they were pleas to the goddess and god to not let the days slip back into the dark oblivion of winter.

To appeal to the pair of deities, the day was ushered in with great bonfires representing the blazing glory of the sun’s golden rays, a practice that continues to this day. 

Dancing, singing, drumming and drinking were all part of festivities by merry partakers who swathed themselves in flowers. Young males, in typical fashion, were known to jump through the towering flames that would have ignited the countryside with the golden plea from peasants for their goddess to grant them an eternal endless summer.  

Thousands of years after building Stonehenge, their descendants are still gathering there in droves. This year was no different as modern Druids and neo-pagans gathered under a sunless sky and drummed, sang and celebrated in the overcast gloom, as CBS News reported.

In technical terms, the sun reached its farthest point north of the equator in its apparent path around our planet Wednesday, lending us the longest day of the year--14 hours and 26 minutes long, to be exact, according to the Griffith Observatory.

And it’s all downhill from here.

Days will gradually shrink and minutes get shaved off our daylight hours as we head toward the winter solstice in December and the shortest day of the year.

Solstice literally means to standstill, and it’s on solstices that humans throughout history have stopped to take stock of our seasons and celebrate the turning of them in style.

As author Mike Nichols has pointed out, however, this traditionally occurred on June 24, just as winter solstice was traditionally celebrated on December 25, eventually evolving into the Christian holiday, Christmas.

So for those of you out there who unknowingly missed out, don’t worry--you still have a chance to celebrate the long days of summer before they slip away.

You may have to do a bit of driving to do so: Santa Monica and Santa Barbara are both hosting extensive celebrations on Sunday that are free to the public and taking place under open skies.

To catch pow wows and other celebrations hosted by local native peoples, which usually occur on the weekend closest to June 20, you will have to start planning a little earlier.

But if you did miss the party, don't worry--you slackers can look forward to your mornings starting later and besides, there’s always next year.

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