The summer solstice aka the estival solstice, aka midsummer—marks the moment when the North Pole is angled more toward the sun than on any other day of the year, resulting in the longest period of sunlight of the year for the top half of the planet.
Ancient humans used the June Solstice as a way to organize their calendars. Some believe that Stonehenge’s unique stone circle was erected around 2500 BCE in order to establish the date of the Summer Solstice. Viewed from its center, the Sun rises at a particular point on the horizon on day of the June Solstice. Some theories suggest that the builders of Stonehenge may have used the solstice as a starting-point to count the days of the year.
Ancient Egyptians aligned the Great Pyramids so that the sun, when viewed from the Sphinx, sets precisely between two of the pyramids on the summer solstice.
In ancient China, the summer solstice was observed by a ceremony to celebrate the Earth, femininity, and the “yin” forces. It complemented the Winter Solstice that celebrated the heavens, masculinity and “yang” forces. According to Chinese tradition, the shortest shadow is found on the day of the Summer Solstice.
In a long-buried Mayan city in Guatemala, archaeologists have discovered the remains of an astronomical observatory in which the buildings were designed to align with the sun during the solstices. During such times, the city’s populace gathered at the observatory to watch as their king appeared to command the heavens.
In ancient Gaul, which encompasses modern-day France and some parts of its neighboring countries, the Midsummer celebration was called Feast of Epona. The celebration was named after a mare goddess who personified fertility and protected horses.
In ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes, pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires. After Christianity spread in Europe and other parts of the world, many pagan customs were incorporated into the Christian religion.
In parts of Scandinavia, the Midsummer celebration continued but was observed around the time of St John’s Day, on June 24, to honor St John the Baptist instead of the pagan gods.