Here’s everything you need to know about the longest day of the year and traditions surrounding the summer solstice
Every year, around this time, we start talking about the summer solstice.
Mostly it’s because it’s the longest day of the year, and there’s a very British pessimism that says the days will immediately start to shorten into winter from now on.
But there’s also the shenanigans at Stonehenge, general celebrations and a pause to celebrate the summer.
But what does it all mean?
What is it?
It’s generally understood to mark the middle of summer – even though some of us may feel like we haven’t really had the first half yet in the UK.
Technically, it’s when the tilt of Earth’s axis is most inclined towards the sun, and that’s why we get the most daylight of the year.
In the winter solstice, we’re tilted furthest away from the sun, hence shorter hours of daylight and the shortest day.
The word solstice is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still).
When is it?
In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice takes place between June 20 and 22. This year it’s on Monday, June 20.
As it happens twice annually, the winter solstice in the UK is between December 20 and 22.
In London on the summer solstice, the sun will rise at 04:43 and set at 21:21.
Near Stonehenge in Salisbury, sunrise will be at 04:52 and sunset will occur at 21:26.
The midsummer solstice is being celebrated at Stonehenge on Saturday into Sunday and at the Avebury stone circle from Friday until Monday.
Thousands flock to the English Heritage site for the solstice in a tradition which has its roots in pagan times, when Midsummer Day was considered to have power.
Of those who attend, many are druids, but some are tourists.
This year it’s falling on a weekend for the first time in more than a decade and is expected to draw much larger crowds.
The way that the stones are positioned is said to be aligned with sunrises on the two annual solstices.
Although not much is known about its formation, those facts are thought to be involved with whatever religious, mystical or spiritual elements were central to its construction.
The monument field at Stonehenge is open from 19:00 on Monday 20 June to 08:00 on Tuesday 21 June. Admission is free, but parking fees apply.
The Solstice Car Park opens at 7pm on 20th June with last admissions at 6am (or when full, if earlier) on 21st June. The car park will close at 12 noon on 21st June.
Visitors, including sunrise-worshipping Druids for whom it is a religious occasion, are encouraged to use public transport or arrange to car share.
How else do people celebrate it?
It’s not just for the arch-druids in Wiltshire – there are celebrations worldwide among lots of different cultures.
The holidays, festivals and rituals do tend to have themes of religion or fertility.
In Latvia there’s Jāņi, when women wear wreaths on their heads. Estonia has Jaanipäev or St John’s Day, which marks a change in the farming year.
Wianki happens in Poland, with roots in a pagan religious event, and Kupala Night happens in Russia and Ukraine, where people jump over the flames of bonfires in a ritual test of bravery and faith.
Are the days going to be shorter now?
They will of course get shorter between now and the winter solstice on December 21, but don’t worry, we’re not talking early dark nights quite yet.
“We strongly advise anyone planning to come to Stonehenge for solstice to leave their cars at home and travel by public transport. Salisbury is easily accessible by train and the local Salisbury Reds bus company will be running a special service from Salisbury to Stonehenge through Saturday night and into the next day. Solstice Events are offering their usual transport from Bath and Stonehenge guided tours are offering their small group tour from London.
If you are unable to visit Stonehenge on the Solstice you can watch our LIVE PERISCOPE BROADCAST
The Stonehenge News Blog