Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Longest Day...

Today is the 21st of June. Yesterday was the summer solstice and it went by without much fanfare. Years ago it was referred to as Midsummer and there were celebrations and parties. A celebration of the longest day and a the promise of continued happiness for the year. It was a time for merriment and outdoor fun. Then the Christians came.

The Christians hate astronomy. They always have. Maybe it is because they did not want anyone looking up there and seeing there was no God. Maybe they saw it as too close to astrology and that was a competing meme so they crushed it. Maybe it was all the non-religious study and the great minds being allowed to think about something other than God. As time went on they became afraid of a heliocentric solar system and the proof that the bible was wrong. In any effect, they hated astronomy.

Eventually Christianity, to conquer some Pagan territory, had to accept a midsummer-ish festival. Like they did with Christmas but the other side of the year. Problem for the prissy Christians is that Midsummer was a time of dance and debauchery and that was hard to beat out of the Christo-pagans. Saint John's Day (or the Feast of St. John-as in John the Baptist), the Christian/Catholic attempts to co-opt Midsummer failed and never picked up a lot of steam. If you do wish to celebrate it I have heard that it is still a good sized party in Voodoo and celebrated in New Orleans. So, good luck with that.

Aside from Voodoo, who celebrates the summer solstice in the modern era?  The Neopagans sometimes celebrate Lita, Some Atheists and Scientific Pantheists, like myself, experience it as a celestial marker and offer it respect. Many cultures and countries have held on to the holiday more loosely, Canada celebrates their independence on July 1st and the US follows on July 4th (week and a half and 2 weeks following solstice). French Canadians in Quebec actually celebrate the Feast of Saint John and it is a Holiday. Across Europe (old Christendom and old Pagan-dom) people still have little celebrations usually more reminiscent of pre-Christian Pagan festivals than the Church's attempted replacement; huge bonfires and all night parties. Naked dancing and revelry and the like.

So, the solstice is the longest day for earth, right? Well, no.

Firstly, there is a Northern Solstice and a Southern Solstice. The one we North Americans and Europeans celebrate is the Northern one. The Southern hemisphere has theirs at Christmas time.

Secondly, it is not the day at all. It is a time. This year it was June 20th at 07:09 Universal Time (UT). UT is basically just Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)but more accurate. For our purposes it is the same. For anyone who does not know GMT is the time on the Prime Meridian or zero degrees longitude. No surprise that the English, when they conquered the world, named a city in England as point zero for all geography.

The summer solstice is when the axial tilt of the Earth (or any planet for that matter) for a given hemisphere is more inclined toward the Sun (or other stat) than at any other moment throughout the year.  Earth's maximum tilt at the solstice (north or south) is twenty three degrees twenty six minutes (23° 26'). During the solstice the sun reaches it's highest point in the as seen from the north or south poles.

As we know this occurs between June 20 and June 22 each year while the summer solstice occurs between December 20 and 23. The winter solstice is just the other date as I am sure you know but probably do not think about. Imagine that it is the shortest day and the beginning of winter in Australia.


I wrote this because I was thinking about the summer solstice and thought you might be too. Happy Belated Solstice folks!!


-Josh

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