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  • Writer's pictureChristine Dorman

Another Solstice—Yay! Um, What Exactly is a Solstice Anyway?

Updated: Jun 22

How important are the summer and winter solstices to our modern lives? More than you might realize.
How important are the summer and winter solstices to our modern lives? More than you might realize.

Happy day-after-the-solstice! The summer solstice took place yesterday (June 20th) in the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere experienced winter solstice. But why should you or I be excited? Just what does “the summer solstice” or “the winter solstice” even mean? Is this a ritual event from some long-past civilization? Is it a new age or neo-pagan thing? Or what?


Ancient civilizations (and I do mean it in the plural) marked both solstices with ritual celebrations. Now there are new age and neo-pagan groups who gather on the solstices at symbolic spots, such as Stonehenge. But the solstices are real. They are events of nature and can be explained scientifically. And they impact us all.


Summer solstice is the longest day of the year. There are more hours of daylight on this day than on any other. On the Gregorian calendar, it marks the start of summer. After this solstice, the days gradually grow shorter (less daylight time) and, little by little, they get cooler then colder. Winter solstice is the opposite. It has the fewest hours of sunshine so it can be described as the longest, darkest night. Then things reverse. More and more sunlight creeps in and the days grow warmer. Ironically, on the calendar, winter solstice is listed as the first day of winter.


As you can see, the solstices are two major turning points during the year. And the ancients took note of that. They didn’t know about the tilt of the earth’s axis and the distance of the earth from the sun which are a part of the scientific explanation of a solstice, but they were expert observers of nature. They had to be. Aspects of nature such as hours of sunlight and rising and falling temperatures affected the crops they depended on to live. So, they took notice of the solstices and found them awe-inspiring and a bit scary.


The ancient Celts responded to the summer solstice by having ritual celebrations to celebrate the abundance of sunshine. They responded to the winter solstice with rituals and prayers to encourage the sun’s return. But they didn’t just pray and celebrate. To the Celts, The solstices were magical events and they wanted to tap into that magic. The result? A proliferation of folk practices and traditions related to the solstices.


If you’d like to find out more about the solstices and the Celtic folklore and ritual celebrations associated with them, check out my posts below.

I’ll be back on July 5th with a post on the importance of cows in ancient Celtic culture. Yes, really: cows. Or, more accurately, cattle. Bulls played a significant role too. See you then.

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Slán go fóill

     All artwork for this post (except for the GIF) by Christine Dorman via Bing Image Creator.

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