Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Longest Day

Today - 21 June - is the longest day of the year, otherwise known as the summer solstice. 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 longest day, with the most hours of daylight. From here on it the nights start 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.

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.

And of course it just so happens that today is also Father's Day, which is celebrated on the third Sunday of June in 52 countries around the world, and on other days elsewhere. It complements Mother's Day and was inaugurated in the early twentieth century. Father's Day is believed to have been held for the first time on 5 July 1908, in a church located in Fairmont, West Virginia, by Dr. Robert Webb at the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South of Fairmont.
So, depending on who you are and what you've been doing today, Happy Father's Day/Midsummer's Day/Summer Solstice*.
* delete as applicable

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