A Solstice is an astronomical term referring to an event which happens twice a year where, due to the tilt of the earth’s axis, the sun seems to reach its northmost or southmost extreme and create the illusion of standing still. This event is also known as Midsummer or Litha. To the less academic of us, what this results in, is the longest and shortest day of the year: this year the longest day fell on 20th June. Many of us, in fact 36,500 of us, made the journey down to the infamous Stonehenge monument in Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire to witness this event.
Because of the typically English overcast sky, the sun did not make much of an appearance this year when it rose at 4.58am. This did not however stop the jovial and party atmosphere of its spectators who arrived in an array of pagan traditional dress, Morris dancing attire and general jeans and jumpers. Along with the everyday partygoer, the diversity of people who celebrate such an event stems from its astronomical, religious and spiritual significance.
For thousands of years, humans have been amazed by the great power of the sun. The Celts celebrated the event with bonfires that were believed to add to the sun’s energy, whereas Christians enjoy the feast of St John the Baptist and the Chinese hold the festival of Li, the Chinese Goddess of light. Pagans in particular are in awe of the sun’s strength and this momentous event at the Stonehenge monument stems from their beliefs. Their concentration on the circle of life and nature means that Pagans see this as a time to celebrate growth and life. The Summer Solstice represents a balance in the world within the ongoing shifting of seasons and is also time to acknowledge that the sun will now begin to decline once more towards winter.
Whatever your beliefs, this event, although with only a one in ten chance of seeing the sun itself, is a true life experience. The festival atmosphere rooted with very traditional and spiritual foundations creates a unique and magical buzz. Wrap up warm and spend the night interacting with the interesting people you are bound to meet and, as the sun rises, watch in wonder as the various groups practice their ancient ritual dances and celebrations.
If the journey and long sleepless night are all too much for you, there are plenty of more local low-key events that you can attend. Furthermore, why not consider visiting other countries of the world at Solstice time to see the spectacle from other viewpoints? Whichever your choice, please do be sure to attend such events responsibly. In Stonehenge alone, police are tirelessly trying to preserve the integrity of the event and crack down on drug abuse and over drinking. Furthermore, when you leave, please take your litter and other belongings with you to avoid other volunteers a tiring and uninspiring job the next day.