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Greek-American Stories: Celebrating the Summer Solstice

Your calendar may mark the event of the Summer Solstice for June 21, when the North Pole tilts towards the sun in a dramatic way, thereby creating both the shortest night and the longest day of 2022 – depending on your hemisphere – but, this year it will fall on June 20, at 5:44 PM because the calendar doesn’t reflect the Earth’s rotation exactly. I’m sure this information will brighten your day.

For many, the First Day of Summer means picnics, beach days, Bar-B-ques and hikes. However, everything has an opposite. Summer also means flies, mosquitoes, sweat, humidity, short tempers, and listening to air conditioner buzz and watching reruns on T.V.

The word ‘solstice’ comes from the Latin, Sol (sun) and Sistere (to stand still) because the sun’s position in the sky at noon doesn’t appear to change much. In England, thousands of people gather at the massive ancient stone circle called Stonehenge to celebrate the Summer Solstice believing  it was the site of ancient Druid celebrations due to the way the sun lines up with the stones. Everyone has a theory on why Stonehenge was built but; no one really knows whether it was an astronomical tool or a temple to worship gods, or a burial ground. The mystery always draws people and everyone has a lovely time watching the sun arise enchantingly with the prehistoric monoliths. I will always believe that somehow, in some way, an ancient Greek had something to do with it. But, that’s just my opinion.

In Egypt, the solstice preceded the appearance of the star Sirius that the Egyptians believed was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile which nourished the land. As Sirius appeared they declared that the New Year began. It would be beneficial not to stand too near the flood area when celebrating the New Year.

In ancient Greece the solstice also marked the start of a new year and a one-month countdown for the opening of the Olympic Games. Many festivals took place on and around that day including Prometheia, in honor of Prometheus, ‘the supplier and provider,’ who gave mankind the gift of fire. Kronia is a festival that is dedicated to Kronus, father of Zeus and the god of agriculture. There is also some evidence that on the Delphic calendar the Summer Solstice was celebrated in honor of Apollo. For the past 2,500 years, Greece has been celebrating the Summer Solstice as a time of equality. I wonder if ‘equality’ included Women’s Rights.

Norwegians celebrate Sankthians, the Feast of John the Baptist, a festival revolving around an ancient tradition by lighting bonfires. The biggest bonfire was set in Alesund  during the Slinninggsbalet Festival, where 100 foot high wooden stack went ablaze. Gee! Some people have all the fun! There is something like that in Greece, however.

The Canadians celebrate the Summer Solstice with the indigenous people of various tribes; Métis, Inuit, First Nations, and others. The festivals include indigenous creations, competitions, and an online Indigenous marketplace and other family cultural events. It is heartening to know that Canada has designed, June 21st as National Indigenous Peoples Day. But, it’s not new! The Indigenous people had always celebrated Summer Solstice in their culture. Thankfully, President Biden, too, has recognized Columbus Day as National Indigenous Day, Hooray for Canada and Pres. Biden.

In ancient China the Summer Solstice was celebrated with a festival honoring femininity and Earth – Yin. It corresponded with the winter solstice – Yang. The concept of Yin and Yang derives from the belief that opposition forces (hot/cold, light/dark) are interconnected in life. If they are out of sync, an imbalance will occur bringing catastrophes such as floods, droughts, and plagues. Gee! There’s been a lot of out of balance Yin and Yang out there, lately.

Many Summer Solstice festivals revolve around the theme of purifying and rebirth and serve as an opportunity for people to cleanse themselves of past transgressions, much like the New Year’s resolutions. I guess some people create a lot of transgressions between January’s New Years and the Summer Solstice New Year.

Kupula Night in Belarus has young people jumping over bonfires to test their bravery and faith. Failure of a couple in love to succeed in a complete jump while holding hands is a sign that they’re destined to separate. (Maybe a few burns will bring them together again in the emergency room.) Well, happy ilio fronimo  everyone.(How do you translate solstice?)

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