June 21: The Summer Solstice
By James Donahue
Most people mark June 21 as the longest day of the year and the first official day of the
summer season. The pagan and aboriginal cultures of the world, however, recognized this day as an important and holy point
in the year, probably because it marked a significant part of the agricultural production of food and the day the sun reached
its highest point in the Northern Hemisphere and began its slow trek southward toward the winter season.
Archaeologists have noted that the great stone monuments erected in various parts of the
world appear specifically designed for some form of a celebration of the summer solstice, or what used to be referred to as
“Midsummer.” For example, the massive boulders at Stonehenge are so arranged that observers standing in the center
of the circle can watch the summer solstice sunrise over the Heel Stone, standing just outside the main ring.
In Egypt, the setting sun on June 21, when viewed from the Sphinx, is located directly between
two of the three massive pyramids. Was that by chance?
Archaeologists recently uncovered the remains of an ancient Mayan astronomical observatory
in Guatemala where the buildings align with the sun on both the summer and winter solstices.
The solstice is the result of an annual tilting of the Earth so the North Pole is tipped
more toward the sun than at any other day of the year. In the Southern Hemisphere, just the opposite is happening. Thus a
winter solstice is occurring in places like Australia and Argentina. While we are just entering the summer season, folks “down
under” are facing winter.
When I was a child I understood the reason for the long day, but it confused me that the
warmest days of the summer season always followed the point where the sun reached its closest point.
Scientists explain that the sun is busy today sending its energy into the lakes, oceans
and planet, which are absorbing and reradiating the energy. Once absorbed, it takes weeks to be released, which causes the
warmth of the summer days. Thus the months of July and August are known to be the warm days of summer.