Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Winter Solstice

Today is summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, marking the longest day of 2011 and the beginning of celebratory events around the world.
Summer solstice occurs when the Earth and Moon’s axis are tilted at a maximum incline towards the sun. Today, this will take place at exactly 1:16 p.m. EDT. While this phenomenon only lasts for that specific moment in time, the entire day has been loosely termed summer solstice or midsummer. Summer solstice also marks the longest period of sunlight for the entire year.
The day bears different meanings across cultures, religions and regions. Between hemispheres the day marks seasonal differences, beginning summer for the Northern Hemisphere and marking the start of winter for the Southern Hemisphere.
In Stonehenge, England, approximately 18,000 people will gather today to take part in solstice festivities. Throughout the year the English Heritage, a historical society, rarely allows direct access to the stones, but grants permission during the solstice, as they believe this holiday to be so significant. Scientists speculate that the construction of Stonehenge was in relation to the rising and setting of the sun, either to function as a calendar or as a means of worshipping the sun as a deity, both of which were common practices for ancient tribes.
Across the United States celebrations are also taking place in major cities. In Seattle, Washington there will be a Skandia Folkdance Society Midsommarfest celebration, celebrating Swedish heritage and midsummer.  The festival will take place on June 26th, and at approximately 2:30 p.m. a large garlanded midsommar pole, called a majstang, will be erected in honor of tradition.
One of the world’s largest events will taking place in Santa Barbara, California June 24- June 26, called theSummer Solstice Celebration.  The three-day festival features a jungle-themed parade, musical acts, along with craft and food booths. Over 100,000 people are expected to attend the event due to free admission, according to Jaunted.
Yet, while those in the Northern Hemisphere are marking the beginning of their summer, technicians working in Antarctica are celebrating the winter solstice. “You have to understand that at the South Pole, the winter is very long,” said Ralf Auer who works at the National Science Foundation’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station as a computer specialist, to CS Monitor.
“You basically have nine months without sunlight,” said Auer. “That's a pretty long time. You’re basically getting closer and closer to the day you’re supposed to see sunlight again.  People are really excited about it.”
Elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, the Aymara people of Bolivia and the Andes celebrated their New Year this morning (they're entering into the year 5,519) near La Paz.
Whether in the United States or abroad, celebrating the beginning of summer or the start of winter, this day marks cultural and traditional chords across the planet.
Be sure to check your local listings to find celebrations and events near you, and join the thousands of others reveling in June 21st merriment.

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