Summer solstice 2024: Date, time and midsummer traditions to celebrate

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Summer solstice celebrations often take place at Stonehenge in Wiltshire

The summer solstice, otherwise known as the longest day of the year, falls on June 20 - marking the return of brighter evenings for us all.

Whether you plan to make the most of your annual leave or simply want to put a few more evening plans in the diary, there’ is plenty to do to make the most of the long summer days.

Also known as midsummer or the estival solstice, it is the day with the longest period of sunlight - boding well for anyone who suffers from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or is wanting to soak up some extra vitamin D.

Read on below to find out everything you need to know about summer, the solstice, traditions and the significance of Stonehenge.

In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice takes place between June 20 and 22 each year.

What time is summer solstice this year?

This year summer solstice falls on Thursday, June 20 at precisely 9.51pm in the UK. The sun will rise at 4.43am.

The solstice officially marks the beginning of the astronomical summer, which ends when the autumn equinox falls on September 22.

Day and night will be at almost equal length on this date, as the sun crosses the celestial equator and moves southward into the northern hemisphere.

What happens during the summer solstice?

There are two solstices each year - one in the winter and one in the summer. The summer solstice occurs when the tilt of Earth’s axis is most inclined towards the sun and is directly above the Tropic of Cancer.

Traditionally, the summer solstice period fell between the planting and harvesting of crops, leaving people who worked the land time to relax. This is why June became the traditional month for weddings.

It might seem like a day to celebrate, but it actually signals the moment the sun’s path stops moving northward in the sky, and the start of days becoming steadily shorter as the slow march towards winter begins.

However, we won’t notice the days becoming shorter for a while. The shortest day of the year is not until December 21, which is known as the winter solstice.

At the winter solstice, the Earth’s axis is tilted furthest away from the sun directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, bringing only a few hours of daylight.

In the southern hemisphere the dates of the two solstices are reversed. The winter solstice occurs on the same day in June and the summer solstice the same day in December.

The term “solstice” derives from the Latin word “solstitium”, meaning “sun standing still”. Some prefer the more teutonic term “sunturn” to describe the event.

Astrologers say the sun seems to “stand still” at the point on the horizon where it appears to rise and set, before moving off in the reverse direction.

Summer solstice traditions

Over the centuries, the June solstice has inspired many festivals and midsummer celebrations involving bonfires, picnics, singing, watching the sun rise and Maypole dancing. Many towns and villages across Britain still mark the day.

One ritual was the lighting of fires, heralding the start of shorter days, although this does not happen often anymore. The idea was that flames would keep the dark away.

How to celebrate the summer solstice

Stonehenge always welcomes an influx of garland-wearing hippies, druids and curious tourists who head to the mysterious stone circles and wait for the sun to appear.

Crowds of around 10,000 traditionally greet the moment dawn breaks, as the sun rises behind the Heel Stone, the ancient entrance to the Stone Circle, with a mixture of cheers and silent meditation each June.

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The Golowan Festival in Penzance, Cornwall is another summer solstice celebration

The Golowan Festival showcases bright parades with festival-goers dancing the Serpent Dance to the sound of the Golowan Band. There are also Golowan workshops in the run-up to the festival, where those celebrating can engage in various activities such as costume, mask and headdress-making.

Other activities to get you in the summer spirit include model boat making to sail at the boating pool event on Quay Fair Day, banner making, practising circus skills, and a photography town trail.

Why is Stonehenge so significant to the summer solstice?

Stonehenge in Amesbury, Wiltshire, is the most popular place for Pagans to celebrate the longest day because it famously aligns to the solstices. The rising sun only reaches the middle of the stones one day of the year when it shines on the central altar.

Built in three phases between 3,000 B.C. and 1,600 B.C, Stonehenge’s exact purpose still remains a mystery. The stones were brought from very long distances – the bluestones from the Preseli Hills more than 150 miles away, and the sarsens probably from the Marlborough Downs, 19 miles to the north.

The day marks the ancient middle of summer. It has significance for pagans who have always believed that midsummer day holds a special power.

Midsummer’s eve was believed to be a time when the veil between this world and the next was at its thinnest, and when fairies were thought to be at their most powerful.

What is the connection to midsummer?

Midsummer is a separate event to the summer solstice. This year, midsummer is to be held on Saturday 24 June 2023.

Referencing the time period between the middle of the summer, this celebration predates Christianity and is primarily held close to the summer solstice.

Traditionally a quarter day - when servants were hired, school terms started and rents were due - midsummer bonfires are still lit on some hills in Cornwall. Bonfires were also typical of Golowan, the festival now celebrated in Penzance, Cornwall, as they signified the Feast of St John (Gol-Jowan).

This article is kept updated with the latest information.