10 Things You Didn't Know About the Summer Solstice

By Spencer Hart on at

It's the summer solstice on Saturday, which means you'll have more precious daylight to experience the outdoors and try something different, or you know... just play a bit more Xbox. To celebrate the longest day of the year, here are ten things you didn't know about the summer solstice.

1.) The summer solstice has been celebrated since the Neolithic Era

The solstice has been a special moment of the solar cycle since Neolithic times, but it began to be widely celebrated as an ancient pagan festival known as Midsummer's Eve. People believed golden-flowered plants, such as Calendula and St. John's Wort, had miraculous healing power if picked on Midsummer's Eve. [Image Credit: National Geographic]

2.) 'Solstice' derived from the Latin term 'solstitium'

The term 'solstitium' was used to describe the event during the Roman Republic around 100 BC. The word is comprised of sol (Sun) and stitium (stoppage or standing) because the Sun's path appears to stop before changing direction. [Image Credit: More Production]

3.) The summer solstice occurs when the Earth's axis is most inclined towards the Sun

Twice a year a solstice occurs when the Earth reaches it's maximum axial tilt of 23.4 degrees, either towards or away from the Sun. In the northern hemisphere, summer solstice occurs when the North Pole is tilted towards the Sun and winter solstice occurs when it's pointed away. During the summer solstice the Sun reaches its highest point in the sky and the day on which it occurs has the longest period of daylight. [Image Credit: Drik Panchang]

4.) The summer solstice is frequently celebrated by lighting bonfires to ward off spirits, witches or dragons

Since ancient pagan times, bonfires have been lit to protect against evil spirits on Midsummer's Eve. Over time this evolved in different locations, to ward off witches in some places and dragons in others. Summer solstice is still celebrated in many Scandinavian countries by lighting large bonfires. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]

5.) The summer solstice is the most dangerous day of the year in Latvia

During the summer solstice celebration of Jāņi in Latvia, a large amount of food and alcohol is consumed around large fires. Due to the overindulgence and recklessness of this celebration, the emergency services in Latvia have stated it's harmful to public health. In addition to this, more incidents of 'driving while under the influence' are recorded than any other day of the year. [Image Credit: Global Bhasin]

6.) Three of Uranus' moons are named after characters from A Midsummer Night's Dream

John Herschel named two of the moons, 'Oberon' and 'Titania', after the Fairy King and Queen from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. When subsequent moons were discovered they continued the literary naming tradition, with 'Puck' among them – another fairy from the play. A Midsummer Night's DreamMacbeth and The Tempest all connect magic and witchcraft with the summer solstice. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]

7.) Solstices happen six hours later each year

The Earth doesn't take exactly 365 days to orbit the Sun. It actually takes 365.25 days – this is the reason our solstices don't occur at the same time. They happen six hours later every year, with the solstice jumping back a day on leap years to keep in-line with the solar calendar. You can count down to the precise time of the solstice on Archaeoastronomy. [Image Credit: Scientific Gamer]

8.) You can turn your jacket inside out to confuse the faes

The Old English celebration of summer solstice is known as 'Litha' and there are many traditions associated with the event. Just like our Scandinavian cousins, it's customary to light a fire which is associated with good fortune for the rest of the year. It was believed if you stay up all night in the middle of a stone circle, you will see a fae (fairy). Here's a handy tip: if they begin to harass you, wear your jacket inside-out to confuse them, or follow a ley line to escape them. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]

9.) The Ancient Greeks used the Summer Solstice to measure the circumference of the Earth

During the summer solstice in Ancient Greece, Eratosthenes of Cyrene placed a stick in the ground. Because the Sun was directly overhead it didn't create a shadow. He put another stick in the ground 500 miles away and used the shadow of the second stick to calculate the Earth's circumference as 25,000 miles. The actual figure is 24,859 miles, so Eratosthenes was less than one per cent off.

Bonus Fact: Eratosthenes's nickname was 'Beta' because he was the second best musician, astronomer, poet and mathematician in Greece. He also invented the term 'geography'. [Image Credit: Famous Mathematicians]

10.) Stonehenge isn't a henge

Perhaps the most famous henge of them all, isn't actually a henge. The archaeological definition of a henge is a circular structure with a ditch on the inside and a bank on the outside, but Stonehenge is the opposite way around. Construction of Stonehenge began around 5,000 years ago but the area was important for a much longer period of time; about 10,500 years ago, three large pine totem poles were erected on the site. The original purpose of Stonehenge remains unclear, although recent research suggests that up to 240 people have been buried there, making Stonehenge one of the largest Neolithic burial sites in Britain. Now the site in Wiltshire is visited every solstice by Neopagan Druids to celebrate and worship at the giant stones. [Image Credit: Shutterstock]

[Featured Image Credit: Megalithic]