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COMMENTARY: Summer solstice calls for some sun-worshiping celebrations
The cause of the summer solstice - the name of which is derived from the Latin words sol meaning "sun," and sistere, meaning "stand still" - is due to the angle of the earth on its axis. On this day, the earth is at its greatest tilt toward the sun (in winter, it is tilted away), and the sun is in its northernmost position of the year, above the Tropic of Cancer, where it will hover, shedding maximum rays toward earth before beginning its journey back toward the equator.
Known as "midsummer" in previous centuries, the day was revered by many cultures, from the Druids to the Incas to ancient Egyptians. They held festivals and feasts to celebrate the bounty of the warmer months and, in some locations, the monsoon rains, which enriched the land.
Summer solstice was also viewed by many as a time of fertility and good fortune, with weddings traditionally taking place on the day or within the month (June continues to be the most popular month for weddings).
Today, the observance of summer solstice in America is much more low-key, save for some community festivals and neo-pagan celebrations throughout the country. But it doesn't have to be this way. Why not welcome the beginning of summer with some revelry?
Take a cue from bygone eras, when people celebrated the solstice at sunrise, and head to Santa Cruz to greet the early sun on the beach. Alternately, you could celebrate the day by indulging in some sun worship - hike, try horseback riding, sail, kayak, play golf or organize an impromptu weekend camping trip.
Come evening, bonfires are a particularly popular route to go, as is hosting an at-home fete in honor of the long-lasting daylight.
Try a wine-tasting party, keeping it light with whites and rosés a "chilled" party, with frozen drinks and raw foods; a garden party, with fruits and edible flowers; or even a fiery summer sun party, where you can serve spicy foods or those in tones of yellow, orange and red, and listen to songs with the word "summer" in them.
If being social isn't your style, appreciate the day with some thoughtful solitude about what the next phase of the year will bring. After all, for ancient civilizations, summer solstice was like our modern-day New Year's Eve and was viewed as a time of rebirth and renewal. You could create a revamped resolution list, reviewing your year thus far and thinking about what you'd like to see happen before you ring in 2009. Or maybe plan a trip to someplace you've always wanted to see. Not sure where to go? You could always schedule a trip for next year to the Mecca of all summer solstice celebrations: Stonehenge, where hordes of tourists and neo-druids alike gather to spend the night at the sacred site.
Celebrations such as these might seem archaic, but in a time of frenzied schedules and fast-paced living, summer solstice offers a nice opportunity to bask in a fresh season while taking pleasure in the little things in life: friends, new beginnings, the beauty of Mother Nature and just the simple joy of a few more moments of sunlight.
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