The summer solstice occurs exactly when the Earth's semi-axis in a given hemisphere is most inclined towards the sun, at its maximum tilt of 23° 26'. Though the summer solstice is an instant in time, the term is also colloquially used like Midsummer to refer to the day on which it occurs. Except in the polar regions (where daylight is continuous for many months), the day on which the summer solstice occurs is the day of the year with the longest period of daylight. The summer solstice occurs in June in the Northern Hemisphere north of the Tropic of Cancer (23°26'N) and in December in the Southern Hemisphere south of the Tropic of Capricorn (23°26'S). The Sun reaches its highest position in the sky on the day of the summer solstice. However, between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, the highest sun position does not occur at the summer solstice, since the sun reaches the zenith here and it does so at different times of the year depending on the latitude of the observer. Depending on the shift of the calendar, the summer solstice occurs some time between December 21 and December 22 each year in the Southern Hemisphere, and between June 20 and June 21 in the Northern Hemisphere.
Worldwide, interpretation of the event has varied among cultures, but most have held a recognition of sign of the fertility, involving holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations around that time.
SUMMER SOLSTICE CELEBRATION:
Christian countries: After the conversion of Europe to Christianity, the feast day of St. John the Baptist was set as JUN-24. It "is one of the oldest feasts, if not the oldest feast, introduced into both the Greek and Latin liturgies to honour a saint." 16 Curiously, the feast is held on the alleged date of his birth. Other Christian saints' days are observed on the anniversary of their death. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that St. John was "filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb...[thus his] birth...should be signalized as a day of triumph." 16 His feast day is offset a few days after the summer solstice, just as Christmas is fixed a few days after the winter solstice. 1 "Just as John was the forerunner to Jesus, midsummer forecasts the eventual arrival of" the winter solstice circa DEC-21.
Neopaganism: This is a group of religions which are attempted re-constructions of ancient Pagan religions. Of these, Wicca is the most common; it is loosely based partly on ancient Celtic beliefs and practices. Wiccans recognize eight seasonal days of celebration. Four are minor sabbats and occur at the two solstices and the two equinoxes. The other are major sabbats which happen approximately halfway between an equinox and solstice. The summer solstice sabbat is often called Midsummer or Litha. Wiccans may celebrate the sabbat on the evening before, at sunrise on the morning of the solstice, or at the exact time of the astronomical event. "Midsummer is the time when the sun reaches the peak of its power, the earth is green and holds the promise of a bountiful harvest. The Mother Goddess is viewed as heavily pregnant, and the God is at the apex of his manhood and is honored in his guise as the supreme sun."
Prehistoric Europe: Many remains of ancient stone structures can be found throughout Europe. Some date back many millennia BCE. Many appear to have religious/astronomical purposes; others are burial tombs. These structures were built before writing was developed. One can only speculate on the significance of the summer solstice to the builders. Perhaps the most famous of these structures is Stonehenge, a megalith monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. It was built in three stages, between circa 3000 and 1500 BCE. "The circular bank and ditch, double circle of 'bluestones' (spotted dolerite), and circle of sarsen stones (some with white lintels), are concentric, and the main axis is aligned on the midsummer sunrise--an orientation that was probably for ritual rather than scientific purposes.4 Four "station stones" within the monument form a rectangle whose shorter side also points in the direction of the midsummer sunrise.
Ancient Sweden: A Midsummer tree was set up and decorated in each town. The villagers danced around it. Women and girls would customarily bathe in the local river. This was a magical ritual, intended to bring rain for the crops.
Ancient Rome: The festival of Vestalia lasted from JUN-7 to JUN-15. It was held in honor of the Roman Goddess of the hearth, Vesta. Married women were able to enter the shrine of Vesta during the festival. At other times of the year, only the vestal virgins were permitted inside.
Ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes in Europe: Ancient Pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires. ''It was the night of fire festivals and of love magic, of love oracles and divination. It had to do with lovers and predictions, when pairs of lovers would jump through the luck-bringing flames...'' It was believed that the crops would grow as high as the couples were able to jump. Through the fire's power, ''...maidens would find out about their future husband, and spirits and demons were banished.'' Another function of bonfires was to generate sympathetic magic: giving a boost to the sun's energy so that it would remain potent throughout the rest of the growing season and guarantee a plentiful harvest.
Ancient Gaul: The Midsummer celebration was called Feast of Epona, named after a mare goddess who personified fertility, sovereignty and agriculture. She was portrayed as a woman riding a mare.
Ancient China: Their summer solstice ceremony celebrated the earth, the feminine, and the yin forces. It complemented the winter solstice which celebrated the heavens, masculinity and yang forces.