Today, June 21, is the longest day of the year, the summer solstice.
That’s more time to play in the sun (okay, maybe some of that time will be damped by rain, but still it’s more hours of daylight to enjoy vacations, playing, biking, walking, window-shopping or whatever else catches your fancy in the great outdoors).
The summer solstice is the meteorological start of summer, and in Mexico City, it translates into 13 hours, 12 minutes of sunshine this year.
Sadly, it’s all downhill from here, with the days getting shorter and shorter until we reach the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year) on Dec. 21.
Technically, the midsummer phenomenon occurs in the northern hemisphere when Earth’s rotational axis is most inclined to the sun.
Sometimes referred to as Litha, the solstice has been celebrated for centuries in cultures around the world with any number of traditions, including the lighting of bonfires and the erection of midsummer poles.
In ancient civilizations, the solstice was given religious and cultural significance.
In ancient China, the summer solstice was observed with a ceremony celebrating femininity and yin forces (as opposed to masculinity and yang forces fêted during the winter solstice).
During the Middle Ages, the French celebrated midsummer with the Feast of Epona, named after a mare goddess who personified fertility and protected horses.
And in North America, the Sioux tribes held ritual dances to honor the sun and cut and raised trees that represented a tangible link between the heavens and Earth.
In pre-Hispanic Mexico, much more importance was given to the spring and autumn solstices (when the time of sunlight and darkness were equal), but archeologists also believe that there were rituals tied to the summer and winter solstices in Teotihuacán and several Maya sites.
Today, the summer solstice is mostly associated with secular feasts and celebrations.
In Scandinavia, where sunrise today takes place about 3 a.m. and sunset is around midnight, there are usually music festivals with copious amounts of herring and vodka, as well as a dance around maypole.
In Jolly Ol’ England, where the Druids once gathered to celebrate Litha with furtive ceremonies at Stonehenge, the solstice is associated with fire.
Drawing on pagan traditions, Brits often light bonfires to commemorate what is now known as St. John’s Day.
The Greeks take the blazes a step further, proving their manhood by jumping over the flames as a show of bravery.
However you choose (or not) to celebrate the solstice, do be sure to get outside and catch some of those extra rays of sunshine today.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]