We Are Tilted at 23.5 Degrees

solstice Stonehenge
A solstice at Stonehenge

Summer solstice 2021 in Northern Hemisphere arrives today. In the Eastern time zone, it arrives precisely at 11:31 PM. That seems odd to me. It thought it usually seems to occur early morning or during the day, so summer coming in darkness feels odd. But it still arrives.

Though the solstice is the first official day of summer, many of us in this hemisphere have been feeling like it has been summer for a few weeks. Flowers are blooming. I have been to the Atlantic Ocean and sat on a beach along the Jersey shore, as I have every summer of my life.

In the northern part of the world going back to much older times, the solstice was celebrated as midsummer. Some people believed that some plants had magical properties today. Fairies, ghosts, and spirits were thought to be especially active today. Mr. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays off many of those beliefs which were not considered true in his time. But those things were certainly known to his audience and there were certainly people then (and now) that weren’t so sure it was all just a “fairy tale.”

In ancient China, the summer solstice was observed by a ceremony to celebrate the Earth, femininity, and the “yin” forces.

The Druidic name for the Summer Solstice is Alban Hefin, which means ‘The Light of the Shore” or ‘Light of Summer.” In pre-Christian Ireland and England, the movements of the sun formed the calendar and were based around the high-, mid- and low- points of the sun. Equinoxes and solstices were measured and celebrated at monuments around the island. Stonehenge is the most famous place but there were others throughout the land.

Of course, this is the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere and that idea never ceases to amaze me even though I know it is all about the Earth being tilted on its axis. It is not a huge tilt – 23.5 degrees – but that is what makes the difference between winter and summer.

Now, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, receiving more direct radiation for longer periods of time each day. For me in Paradelle and others in the north, this will be the longest day(light) of the year and tonight will be the shortest night.

Celestial things don’t always seem logical. As a child, I would have said that summer meant we were closer to the Sun. Wrong. We are about 3 million miles farther away than we are in winter.

These days Midsummer’s Eve is still celebrated sometime between June 21 and June 24, especially in Scandinavia, Latvia, and other locations in Northern Europe. I am told it is right behind Christmas on the holiday list.

If I was feeling my ancestors from Northern Europe more strongly today I might have made this weekend more of a holiday and danced around maypoles and burned straw witches in a bonfire. I did bring some fresh flowers into the house and I could light up the fire pit. It’s no Stonehenge but then again it is 2021.

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Ken

A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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