At 12:24am Eastern Standard Time, on Wednesday, June 21, 2017, the official longest day of the year began. There are two solstices — summer and winter — with winter as the shortest day of the year, and summer the longest. Winter solstice tends to make everyone cry out in grief — it is, after all, a sign that it will be pitch black before you even leave the office that day, and for many days following, and that your Vitamin D levels are gonna be considerably diminished. As if winter wasn’t already cruel to anyone living in an urban setting, the lack of sunlight really smashes people’s moods.
But summer solstice is an entirely different situation. After the longest day of the year, you’ll be guaranteed 14-15 hours of sunlight for a few months, with sunrise at 5:30am, and sunset at 8:30pm (at least, here in the US — there’s slight variation throughout the globe, particularly those living exactly on the opposite end of the world). The golden hour of dusk seems to extend further and further, and people spend more time outside eating, talking, playing, laughing. If everyone is aggressively nesting by the time winter solstice rolls around, summer solstice brings even the most introverted out of their apartment.
But solstices aren’t just about length of day and the earth’s position in relation to the sun. The word solstice itself is Latin in origin — sol, meaning sun, and sistere, to stand still. The idea here is that the sun suspends in place before reversing direction. And while these are useful terms and rules for farming and seasonal planning, the solstice also has Pagan roots — particularly as holidays celebrating Midwinter (Yule) and Midsummer (Litha).
Preceded by Beltane, a Gaelic May Day, Litha, according to what little is known about ancient Celtic practices, was a celebration to honor the space between earth and the heavens. According to author Ceisiwr Serith of Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, various rituals involving setting large wheels on fire and rolling them downhill into water were done to fight off drought. Later on, the Romans would celebrate Midsummer by honoring Juno, the wife of the god Jupiter, and goddess of women and childbirth, as June and midsummer felt rich with birth, crop, and growth.
Apparently, whether to celebrate Midsummer as a modern Pagan has become contentious. Since there’s a lack of actual historical recording for these rituals, whether Midsummer was truly celebrated as an important holiday has come into question, the true origins of solstice celebration is considered debatable. Contemporary Pagans, should they decide to shirk the debate and celebrate, consider Litha a day to contemplate inner power and light, a time to meditate, play outside, and have a bonfire to honor that space between earth and the heavens. Celebrations of summer, whether you’re a practicing Pagan or not, can also turn into wonderful midsummer, solstice tattoos — ink designed to honor your love of playing outside, yes, but to also acknowledge the longest day and its power over summer.