The summer solstice is the longest day of the year. This year, the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere falls on Sunday, June 20th. But it can take place between June 20th and 22nd, depending on the year.
Summer In Ancient Societies
Throughout history, many civilizations have recognized the summer solstice as an important date. According to some ancient Greek calendars, the summer solstice marked the start of the New Year. It also kicked off the one-month countdown to the Olympic games.
Before Christianity, ancient Northern and Central European pagans welcomed the arrival of summer with bonfires. The bonfires were said to boost the sun’s energy during the growing season and ensure a good fall harvest. The bonfires were also associated with magic, and it was thought that they could help banish demons and evil spirits. Magic was believed to be strongest during the summer solstice.
Many Native American tribes took part in solstice rituals, some of which are still practiced today. For example, the Sioux performed a ceremonial sun dance around a tree while wearing symbolic colors. Some scholars believe that Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming was the site of the Plains tribe’s annual sun dance. This is supported by the fact that the site’s arrangement of stones aligns with the summer solstice sunrise and sunset.
School’s Out For The Summer
In modern American society, one of the traditions most heavily associated with the season is summer break from school. A common myth holds that the reason for summer break can be traced back to the country’s early agrarian economy. Many believe that children were given the summer off to help on the family farm.
But while there may be a hint of truth in this theory, it is mostly incorrect. In reality, children in rural areas were most needed on the farm during spring, when the crops were planted, and fall, when the crops were harvested. As a result, rural schools often held a winter term and a summer term, with children receiving time off in the spring and fall. Urban schools were essentially open year-round, but since schooling wasn’t mandatory children attended when they could.
Given the intense heat present in cities during the summer, wealthy and middle-class urbanites would often leave during these months, making it a logical time to suspend school in cities. By the late 19th century, school reformers started pushing for standardization of the school calendar across urban and rural areas. So, a compromise was struck that created the modern school calendar, with a “summer break” built in. This means that the decision to take the summer off was actually more influenced by urban schools than rural ones.
According to a survey conducted by the National Recreation and Park Association, the most popular summertime activity in America is having a picnic or barbecue, with 55% of respondents listing it as one of their favorite activities. But no matter how much you love a good barbecue, you’d have to work hard to catch up to Jan Greeff, who set the world record for the longest barbecue marathon at 80 hours back in 2014. During the barbecue, Greeff cooked a total of 1000 hot dogs, 200 pieces of corn, 104 pieces of chicken, 558 burgers, and 526 boerewors (South African sausage).
If you’re looking for a little friendly competition, baseball is a popular summertime sport. Since 1906, Fairbanks, Alaska has marked the summer solstice with the annual Midnight Sun Baseball Game. The game begins at 10:30pm and often lasts as late as 2:00am, yet artificial lighting has never been used. This is possible because Fairbanks is just 160 miles south of the Arctic Circle, so the area gets nearly 24-hours of sunlight each day during the summer months.
But if you’d prefer to stick with an indoor activity, it’s also a great season for movies. Many point to the release of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in 1975 as the birth of the summer blockbuster. And since then, many of the top-grossing films of all time have been released during the season. The top-grossing summer blockbusters from recent years include Aladdin (2019), Incredibles 2 (2018), Wonder Woman (2017), Finding Dory (2016), and Jurassic World (2015).
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