Happy Litha!

Thursday 21 June 2012

Today - 21 June - is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and the subject of a play by Will Shakespeare.

That's right - the SUMMER solstice. And guess what? It's raining here in good old Blighty!

Of course the solstice is an astronomical event that happens twice a year when the tilt of the Earth's axis is most inclined toward or away from the Sun, causing the Sun's apparent position in the sky to reach its northernmost or southernmost extreme.

It is on this the day - also known as Midsummer's Day - that the sun appears at its most northerly point, which results in it being the day with the most hours of daylight. From here on in the nights begin to get shorter again until we reach the winter solstice in December.

The name 'solstice' is derived from two Latin words, sol, meaning 'sun', and sistere, meaning 'to stand still', because at the solstice, the Sun appears to stand still in declination - in other words, the apparent movement of the Sun's path north or south comes to a stop before reversing direction.

People welcoming the sun rise on Midsummer's Day at Stonehenge in Wiltshire

Every 21 June hundreds of people travel to Stonehenge in Wiltshire to watch the sun rise. At this moment, the sun shines on the famous Heel Stone. For those of the Druidic faith, this is a very important moment of the year. Druidic celebrations also take place on Midsummer's Eve. Bonfires are lit to show respect for the Sun God, whose power is greatest at the Summer Solstice. The fires also represent an attempt to ward off the coming winter. Practice of this ancient ritual, which also includes a Summer Solstice Circle Dance, is now mainly confined to Cornwall, the West Country, and London's Hampstead Heath.

"So why 'Happy Litha'?" I hear you cry.

The name Litha may come from Saxon tradition - and is the opposite of Yule. On this longest day of the year, light and life are abundant. At mid-summer, the Sun God has reached the moment of his greatest strength. Seated on his greenwood throne, he is also lord of the forests, and his face is seen in church architecture peering from countless foliate masks. The Christian religion converted this day of Jack-in-the-Green to the Feast of St. John the Baptist, often portraying him in rustic attire, sometimes with horns and cloven feet (rather like the Greek Demi-God Pan).

The Green Man of Wells Cathedral Undercroft

If you fancy having your own solstice celebration but you can't get down to Stonehenge yourself, next year why not hire your own replica henge from these guys?


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