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Fresh Life: Summer loving ... Had Me a Blast — of Sun

by on June 30, 2012 12:19 PM

While a mild winter and beautiful spring eased us into the summer seemingly early, summer actually just began June 21. That was the official summer solstice and longest day of the year, in the Northern hemisphere.

The summer solstice has always been a day I look forward to. Not only does it officially mark the start of a summer full of campfires, festivals, and fresh produce but, also my “half” birthday. My actual birthday is on Dec. 21, or usually the winter solstice. I always imagined a summer birthday celebration. Instead, I celebrate an often cold and snowy birthday which is shared with the Christmas season on the shortest day of the year.

The solstice happens twice a year. Once around Dec. 21 and the other around June 21, when the sun is in its highest position in the sky, viewable from the North or South Pole. The sun during the summer solstice is the furthest point away from the equator.

In other parts of the world, there is a definitive change in sunlight and temperature during the solstice, but for those who inhabit land near the equator, the sun doesn’t move up or down in the sky, so the length of day and temperature doesn’t fluctuate much either.

The word solstice comes from the Latin word “solstitium,” meaning “sun-stopping” or “sol“ meaning sun or to stand still. It is also known as the northern solstice because it occurs when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere. The time when the sun rises and sets, stops on the solstice and changes direction after this day.

In other words, as of approximately last Thursday, the daylight will progressively become less until the winter solstice when we will experience the least amount of sunlight in a day. The summer solstice has the longest amount of daylight hours for those living north of the equator. For people who live or travel north of the Arctic Circle are able to see the “midnight sun.”

This is where the sun stays visible throughout the night. In contrast, those who live or travel south of the Antarctic Circle will not see sun during this time of the year. So in for these individuals, the June solstice is like our winter solstice, or the shortest day of the year and start of winter.

Many may be unaware of the official summer solstice so instead mark it simply by when children are finished with school for the season. If you are a follower of the true solstices, a celebration may be in order. Individual families and cultures worldwide celebrate the event with rituals, gatherings, festivals, and similar festivities. Some have marked the event as a sign of fertility.

In ancient times, solstices and equinoxes were important in guiding people to develop and maintain calendars, as well as helping them to grow crops. It was important for many people, especially those who spent a considerable amount of time outdoors, to understand the seasons and weather, which played a key role in their lives. Much of the information in farmers almanacs are based on the change of seasons, equinoxes, solstices and weather patterns.

During the solstice, the sun does not rise precisely in the east as always thought, but rises to the north of east and sets to the north of west allowing the sun to be in the sky for a longer period of time. As the summer begins, think beyond campfires, festivals, and food and take some time to learn more about the sun, moon, and general weather patterns in the northeast during the summer.

It is fascinating to track the sun up and sun down times, just as one would with tide times near the beach. It may also be interesting to track and chart or make a game of these sunrise and sunset times from your home specifically to see how many minutes of sun you “lose” as the summer continues. Remember that the sun does come up every day, bringing with it new challenges and rewards.

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